Australian multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers was first spotted within the London music scene as a member of HOTEL MOTEL, a stylish new wave pop trio with shades of BERLIN who were described by DJ Mark Moore of S-EXPRESS fame as like a ROXY MUSIC album cover come to life.
So it was quite fitting in 2009 when Chalmers was recruited as a sax and keys player for Bryan Ferry; she has more or less been there ever since and that would kind of explain why her debut LP ‘Human Again’ has been a long-time coming.
Primarily instrumental and recorded in her boss’ studio while later co-mixed by Johnny Jewel, head honcho for the Italians Do It Better stable, the home to CHROMATICS, DESIRE and HEAVEN, ‘Human Again’ is a conceptual observation on the human condition.
Conceived and sketched in hotel rooms during the come down from playing songs like ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’ to packed theatres around the world, ‘Human Again’ succeeds in capturing those feelings of emptiness and alienation that can often arise from living the dream.
As the opening album title song asks “Hello, are you breathing? Can you make me Human Again?”, a mountainous aural art piece acts as a cathartic expression in a collage of voice, synth and sax, like Enya wandering into ‘Twin Peaks’ but discovering it is full of ‘Subterraneans’…
The following ‘Red Light’ is brilliant and sinister with sharp rhythmic passages and cascading keys combining for a claustrophobic Cold War atmosphere. Laced with abstract whispers and chilling off-key organ, the European tension recalls Chalmers’ French label mates DOUBLE MIXTE and even the haunted dancehall of THE SABRES OF PARADISE. ‘Black Shadow’ maintains that air of mystery, tainted with desolation.
Meanwhile, of a more sombre synthy disposition, ‘She Made Him Love Again’ is a song where Chalmers’ breathy vocals possess a gorgeous forlorn allure, so when the icy string machine and deep sax join in, proceedings rise to another level.
The sinister pulsing arpeggios on ‘Copper Bells’ are simplistic but effective, while ‘No Words’ presents an eerie ambience. More sax based, ‘Our Love In A Glass So Thin’ gets smothered in reverb while detuned electronics add to the moody ‘Low’ before ‘Suburban Pastel’ offers a cautious rumbling sound sculpture.
But the sax returns on ‘This Is Where The Sky Begins’ where it is rich and expressive over a spacey soundscape, with a strangely soothing feeling compared some of the more unsettling pieces that are collected on ‘Human Again’.
As the haunting string ensemble, church organ and bursts of bass synth recall Klaus Schulze on ‘The Sum Of Our Sins’, the ghostly closer ‘Ship In The Sky’ is swathed in drifting melancholy like Arvo Part’s solemn ‘Fratres’.
Capturing the emotion of a stranger in a strange land after the artifice of adulation only hours earlier, ‘Human Again’ is a back-down-to-earth reality check in musical form, to indeed get back to being human again.
This is a rather captivating record that is well worth the time and space, exuding quality in abundance.
A graduate of the London College Of Printing, photographer Peter Ashworth created some of the most iconic images from New Romantic and beyond.
His photographs adorned albums covers such as the debut long player by VISAGE, SOFT CELL ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, ASSOCIATES ‘Sulk’, EURYTHMICS ‘In The Garden’, DEAD OR ALIVE ‘Sophisticated Boom-Boom’, ADAM & THE ANTS ‘Kings Of The Wild Frontier’, TINA TURNER ‘Private Dancer’ and many more.
Meanwhile, his memorable portraits have included artists as varied as FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, ERASURE, ULTRAVOX, THE THE, THE CLASH, THE CULT, THE ART OF NOISE, SWING OUT SISTER, PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, THE LIGHTNING SEEDS and SPACE while his photos of BLANCMANGE, DAVID SYLVIAN, EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL and THE CULT appeared in ‘Smash Hits’.
But it was his image of Annie Lennox in a mask and an ironic strong arm pose for ‘The Face’ that was to become his best remembered shot; the visually powerful statement was then used on the cover of ‘Touch’, the third album by EURYTHMICS.
At a time when image was critical to how an act and their music were perceived, record covers were the first port of call for any potential fan. Thus Ashworth’s eye was ideal as he worked mostly with large square format Hassalblad cameras, so there was never that dilemma of what might be cropped out in a landscape format shot.
Having already debuted the ‘Mavericks’ exhibition in Liverpool, the London variant was specifically adapted for the Lever Gallery in Islington. In Ashworth’s own words: “the prints have deep colours, strong graphics, and are beautifully printed”.
Ashworth loved to create extravagant sets for his backgrounds like The Jungle Of Desire for various formats of FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ or the kaleidoscopic horticultural menagerie for ASSOCIATES to inhabit on the cover image of ‘Sulk’. What Ashworth helped to reinforce was the element of artifice in music of this period, which ultimately allowed the listener to embark on a truly escapist adventure.
So it was a total honour and privilege to have Peter Ashworth personally guide The Electricity Club around his wonderful ‘Mavericks’ exhibition and to hear the stories behind his iconic photographs. Many are now time capsules of fashion and popular culture like his dressing room photo of TRANSVISION VAMP which adorned their ‘Velveteen’ long player, capturing a time before mobile photos when bands would pass the hours away before showtime reading books about THE VELVET UNDERGROUND and sex movies!
Interestingly, Ashworth confessed to rarely listening to the artists he was photographing so that he could focus on the best visual presentation possible. Meanwhile, he also admitted he wasn’t really a fan of anybody except perhaps the late German producer Conny Plank and that his favourite type of music was deep house.
Though his cool portrait of BRYAN FERRY dragging on a Marlboro has been popular with many casual observers, Ashworth’s own favourites are actually of two lesser known New Romantic personalities RONNY and PETER GODWIN. The former was a French protégée of Rusty Egan who cut a striking figure androgynously suited in Anthony Price, while the latter released two singles ‘Torch Song For The Heroine’ and ‘Images of Heaven’ which featured members of ULTRAVOX.
Although never having a hit in his own right, Godwin hit paydirt when DAVID BOWIE covered ‘Criminal World’ by his previous band METRO on the ten million selling ‘Let’s Dance’ album.
A regular visitor to The Blitz Club, Ashworth was a natural choice for the eponymous debut VISAGE album cover image in 1980. Shot in the actual club itself, he had titled the photo ‘The Swing’ thanks to the dancing pose captured of Steve Strange and model Vivienne Tribbeck in front of three silhouetted jazz musicians, one of whom was the soon-to-be famous milliner Stephen Jones. The eventual artwork was actually hand tinted by Iain Gilles, so it was fabulous to see the original photo which to be honest looks better!
One of the acts most closely associated with Peter Ashworth has been SOFT CELL and he took many photographs of Marc Almond and Dave Ball during their career, as well as being an occasional drummer in Almond’s MARC & THE MAMBAS venture. The ‘Bedsitter’ image highlighted Ashworth’s use of props which in this case were a number of kitchen utensils. But the duo’s tense facial expressions can be explained by the fact that the props kept falling off the wall behind them!
‘Mavericks’ is a must see exhibition for anyone remotely interested in pop music and its visual presentation. There is also the opportunity to purchase a quality greeting card set of six iconic Peter Ashworth images which because they measure 6″ x 6″, four can fit perfectly into one of those album artwork frames available in HMV or Fopp… so guess what The Electricity Club did? ??
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thank to Peter Ashworth
‘Mavericks’, a photographic show by Peter Ashworth runs at the Lever Gallery, 153 -157 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7HD until 20th December 2018 – entry is free and open Tuesday to Sunday or by appointment
The vast career of electronic innovator and ambient godfather BRIAN ENO has crossed genres, styles and instrumentation.
Ranging from his solo work with his use of simplistic keyboards and snake guitar to major rock productions and motivational techniques such as his famous ‘Oblique Strategies’ cards, Eno’s theories and thought processes have shaped the pop, rock and avant garde worlds.
“Anything that’s strong enough will stand up to any amount of analysis” Eno said profoundly.
While starting out in art rock with ROXY MUSIC as an EMS VCS3 wielding non-musician, a car accident in early 1975 left him temporarily immobile in a hospital bed. Ever the thinker, it allowed him to explore the possibilities of environmental music.
Inadvertently, he had discovered the sub-genre of ambient. One of his best known early compositions of this type was the short instrumental title track of his 1975 opus ‘Another Green World’ which combined voxless and vocalled tracks in equal measures; the track later became the opening title theme to the BBC2 arts programme ‘Arena’. He focussed on this wordless aesthetic, producing acknowledged ambient classics such as ‘Music for Airports’, ‘Thursday Afternoon’ and ‘Neroli’. His recent album ‘Lux’ on Warp Records continued this quality tradition.
Following his acclaimed solo album ‘Before & After Science’ in 1977, he largely steered clear of conventional vocal led material until 2005’s excellent ‘Another Day On Earth’. However, he maintained a presence within the pop and rock sphere as a producer with ULTRAVOX! and later acts such as DEVO, TALKING HEADS, U2 and JAMES.
“Being a record producer is the best form of cowardice. Producers often get praised but they have to do a really bad job for anyone to criticise them” he said of his occasionally hands-off approach, “The way I work is to try to find out what isn’t being done that ought to be done. Sometimes that means somebody ought to make the tea. Sometimes it means somebody ought to re-write the whole bloody song”. Such is Eno’s magic, he even managed to steer COLDPLAY into making their most bearable track ‘Viva La Vida’!
Eno’s influence in the studio has been significant, even when not actually behind the desk.
While often miscredited as the producer of DAVID BOWIE’s Berlin trilogy ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’, he was paramount in directing Bowie’s train of thought towards a new school of pretension beyond conventional rock ’n’ roll.
The result was half instrumental tracks such as ‘Sound & Vision’ and doomy neo-classical electronic pieces such as ‘Sense Of Doubt’, while both the ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ albums were conceptualised into vocal and instrumental sides.
Other Eno collaborators have included HARMONIA, LARAAJI, ICEHOUSE, JOHN CALE, JAH WOBBLE, SUEDE, LEO ABRAHAMS, JON HOPKINS and KARL HYDE among many. Scouse pranksters HALF MAN HALF BISCUIT even sent up this artistic rite of passage in a song called ‘Eno Collaboration’. Eno’s catalogue is far too extensive to summarise in a short synopsis.
So what material would serve as an introduction to his varied career as a recording artist, producer, remixer and collaborative muse? Here are eighteen affectionately chosen examples from The Electricity Club.
As with all of TEC’s previous Beginner’s Guides, the list is not definitive, presented in chronological order and limited to one track per moniker, project or artist. The intention is to act as an oblique strategy to inspire further investigation…
ROXY MUSIC Ladytron (1972)
‘Ladytron’ was a gloriously arty adventure; the inclusion of otherworldly sonic manipulations on Andy MacKay’s oboe and sax alongside Eno’s striking VCS3 sourced electronics signalled a futuristic vision that was later to reveal itself in the New Romantic scene. But Eno’s tenure in ROXY MUSIC wasn’t to last; tensions had been running high at Roxy gigs.Following Roxy’s second album ‘For Your Pleasure’, Eno was gone!
While Eno’s solo debut ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ followed a trashy, energetic guitar led style inspired by THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, his sophomore offering took in more esoteric approaches and an interest in Chinese Communism. The skippy waltz of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ with percussion played by Phil Collins headed towards the 38th Parallel as a wonderfully infectious guitar melody (borrowed from a Korean folk tune) took hold alongside various whistles and electronic effects.
Prog rockers KING CRIMSON shared management with Roxy and Eno; their guitarist Robert Fripp made his first collaboration with Eno in 1973 on ‘(No Pussyfooting)’. Comprising of two long spiky improvisations, it used a live tape loop technique christened Frippertronics which allowed Mr Toyah Wilcox to layer guitar sounds. This was put to good use on ‘Evening Star’ which had more accessible melodic components compared with ‘(No Pussyfooting)’ and gentle harmonics.
‘Warszawa’ was named after the Polish capital city but accurately captured the post-war tensions in West Berlin without the need for lyricism. At Hansa Studios where the sessions were being mixed, the soldiers in the East Berlin watch towers could look into the windows of the building! Tony Visconti’s production only enhanced the collaborative drama between Bowie’s enigmatic wailing over 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
Using Eno’s Minimoog with a knob marked with a sheep sticker to indicate it made woolly sounds, Billy Currie’s classical sensibilities combined with John Foxx’s detached dissatisfaction to effectively invent Gary Numan on ‘My Sex’. Despite being accorded joint billing with Steve Lillywhite and the band in the ‘Ultravox!’ album’s production credits, drummer Warren Cann later revealed that Eno had only worked on four tracks and had not been quite the accomplished studio technician the band hoped he would be!
Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ultravox!’ via Universal Music
While the 1976 sessions with cult German band HARMONIA featuring Michael Rother of NEU! remained unreleased until 1997, collaborations with two of the collective Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius aka CLUSTER proved to be more successful. With a wonderful ambient collection ‘Cluster & Eno’to their name, their second album ‘After The Heat’added Eno’s contemplative voice to the experimentation, the best of which was the gentle sequencer led beauty of ‘The Belldog’.
With ‘Music for Airports’, No1 in his Ambient series, the concept had been to create soothing pieces for inducing calm in those who had a fear of flying. Unlike ‘Music For Films’ which consisted of short musical fragments, ‘Music For Airports’ comprised of four extended sketches utilising piano, synths and vocal tape loops. Very much a product of the studio and the possibilities opened up due to quality improvements of public address systems, ‘1/1’ was a magnificent 17 minute calling card that was “ignorable as it is interesting”.
Strangely enigmatic, Hassell’s muted avant garde trumpet playing and use of Prophet 5 processing in partnership with Eno on ‘Delta Rain Dream’ from ‘Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics’ provided a backdrop for a type of percussive primitive futurism where it was envisaged what indigenous tribes would have done if a solar powered synthesizer had been dropped in at the beginning of time and become their instrument of choice. ‘Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Vol 2’ was recorded by Hassell solo in 1981.
Eno had produced and issued Budd’s ‘Pavilion Of Dreams’ on Obscure, but didn’t directly collaborate on a full album project with the American self-taught pianist until ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’; ‘First Light’ was typical of an Eno collaboration where the musician of the partnership was allowed to breathe and build tension before Eno’s magical layers of synthesizer appeared in the final quarter. The approach could be compared to Eno choosing a tie for Budd’s shirt and suit…
‘Once In A Lifetime’ may have been the hit but ‘Crosseyed & Painless’ was the key track from ‘Remain In Light’, TALKING HEADS’ third album with Eno. Incorporating funk rhythms alongside assorted instrumentation modulating around a very basic repetitive chord structure, there was tension within the dance as David Byrne preached like an inebriate evangelist. The credit “All songs written by David Byrne, Brian Eno and Talking Heads” said it all as Eno tried to turn TALKING HEADS into his backing group.
Recorded simultaneously during the ‘Remain In Light’ sessions, ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ was the playroom that nearly drove TALKING HEADS apart. This influential album used taped speeches by personalities of assorted faiths effectively as lead vocals. Featuring the found voice of Lebanese mountain singer Dunya Yusin, ‘Regiment’ was mildly funky and its assortment of rhythmical clarity, synthetic atmospheres and sustained guitar textures proved to be a forerunner of JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’.
BRIAN ENO, DANIEL LANOIS & ROGER ENO Deep Blue Day (1983)
The ‘Apollo’ album was recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the mission to the moon. Its intention was to react against the newsy manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes of the day with its fast cuts and speeded up images. Feelings of weightlessness were captured among the collection’s aural clusters and atmospheres. ‘Deep Blue Day’ with its accessible countrified twang from Lanois was used in the infamous ‘toilet’ scene of the film ‘Trainspotting’.
Available on the BRIAN ENO album ‘Apollo’ via Virgin Records
It seemed a most ludicrous union at the time… the flag waving over earnest rock group teaming up with the thoughtful, ambient egghead! With Bono and Co doing their best ‘New Gold Dream’ period SIMPLE MINDS impression, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ captured the harrowing trauma of Hiroshima in layers of Yamaha DX7 and Fairlight as Eno pushed the Irish quartet into a more esoteric mind process to counter their naturally bombastic tendencies. He continues to work with them today.
Brook was a studio engineer who could see the possibilities of stretching out the timbres and textures of the electric guitar. His experiments led to his development of the Infinite Guitar. Co-produced by Eno, ‘Hybrid’ was the first album to fully exploit this instrument and the title track very much followed the percussive possible musics of Eno’s ‘Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics’ collaboration with Jon Hassell. This wasn’t entirely surprising as Brook had played live with the duo in 1981.
Available on the MICHAEL BROOK album ‘Hybrid’ via Virgin Records
After their ‘Seven’ album, JAMES were accused of heading down the U2 route so in a replicant move, Booth and Co secured the services of Eno for ‘Laid’, which was released in Autumn 1993. While driven by frantic acoustic guitar, the lead single ‘Sometimes’ benefitted from Eno’s input by steadily building and adding glistening ambient synths. A most gloriously harmonic vocal section towards the conclusion appeared for yet another lift when it was least expected… pure Eno!
Available on the JAMES album ‘Laid’ via Mercury Records
Using the percolating bass sequence and chilling stabs from the original album version plus slices of Martin Gore’s backing vocal, Eno’s Apex Mix of this highlight from ‘Songs Of Faith & Devotion’ was almost Zen-like in its meditative qualities. Legend has it that while Martin Gore was playing this version in his car, he had to turn it off as it was sending him to sleep! In true Eno style, the backing built slowly and made the most of the song’s inherent tension, something which Butch Vig’s rocked up single mix failed to do.
Available on the DEPECHE MODE CD single ‘In Your Room’ via Mute Records
The first co-write between the two former sparring partners with perhaps some nostalgic lyrical reference to the fledgling days of ROXY MUSIC, ‘Wildcat Days’ was the best track from Ferry’s arduous ‘Mamouna’ project, the original sessions of which had started as far back as 1989 under the working title of ‘Horoscope’. Lots of weird noises, detuned swoops and a seasoned supporting cast including Andy MacKay, Chester Kamen and Steve Ferrone combined for this marvellous slice of electronic art funk.
Available on the BRYAN FERRY album ‘Mamouna’ via Virgin Records
BRIAN ENO & J PETER SCHWALM From This Moment (2001)
For his project with German DJ and percussionist Schwalm, Eno took a more rhythmically colourful approach to his ambient philosophies that coincided with the emergence of chill-out rooms within the club scene. Certainly, ‘Drawn From Life’ possessed more accessible entry points for those who maybe found works such as ‘Music For Airports’ too sedate. The album’s opener ‘From This Moment’ was great soundtrack music, bolstered by live percussion and strings.
Available on the BRIAN ENO & J PETER SCHWALM album ‘Drawn from Life’ via Virgin Records
One of Australia’s best acts of the post-punk era ICEHOUSE have been comprehensively collected on a 2CD+DVD compilation ‘White Heat: 30 Hits’ released by Repertoire Records for European consumption, having already been available in Oz since 2011.
Part of a reissue campaign for the ICEHOUSE catalogue, the label also recently reissued the SPARKS and GIORGIO MORODER back catalogues.
Officially sanctioned by ICEHOUSE’s mainman and vocalist Iva Davies, it documents ICEHOUSE’s recorded career from late 1980 when they started out as FLOWERS.
They were forced to change their name due to an American act having the same moniker; so for a new name, Davies chose the striking title track of FLOWERS’ debut album ‘Icehouse’.
Often overshadowed internationally at the time by INXS and MEN AT WORK, ICEHOUSE were however far more interesting, blending an artful European aesthetic with the Aussie love of more straightforward rock ’n’ roll.
ICEHOUSE’s early cinematic videos were directed by Russell Mulcahy who also worked with ULTRAVOX and DURAN DURAN on their iconic promos before going on to make the film ‘Highlander’. Meanwhile ICEHOUSE’s 1986 album ‘Measure For Measure’ featured notable guest musicians such as Brian Eno and JAPAN’s Steve Jansen.
ICEHOUSE were one of the first acts to employ Moroder apprentice Keith Forsey as a producer before his massive success with British acts who broke America such as BILLY IDOL, THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS and SIMPLE MINDS. Indeed, it was SIMPLE MINDS who gave ICEHOUSE their UK break by inviting them to be their support act in 1981 while later on, Davies and Co supported DAVID BOWIE on the European outdoor leg of the ‘Serious Moonlight’ tour in 1983.
Featuring the line-up of Iva Davies, John Lloyd, Anthony Smith and Keith Walsh, the quartet’s first single ‘Can’t Help Myself’ was a bizarre but enjoyable mix of THE EAGLES and ULTRAVOX. The follow-up ‘We Can Get Together’ had more of an new wave vibe to it, but the song which got ICEHOUSE noticed by a wider audience in the UK was the chilling, synth laden ‘Icehouse’.
With the misty video’s premiere on youth arts TV show ‘Riverside’, ‘Icehouse’ added a strange offbeat and the mannerisms of GARY NUMAN before Blitzing out for the song’s flanged guitar climax. With its Eurocentric overtones, ‘Icehouse’ was easily as good as anything on VISAGE’s eponymous debut.
Despite the new found profile in Europe, Davies dissolved the band and decided to record the second ICEHOUSE album ‘Primitive Man’ essentially as a solo project in Los Angeles with Keith Forsey in 1982. With the accessibility of new digital technology such as the Linn Drum Computer, his songs started to change with a more precise sensibility creeping in. The first single from these sessions was the magnificent ‘Hey Little Girl’.
Echoing the popularity of New Romantic styled acts such as JAPAN and the programmed pop of THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ‘Hey Little Girl’ polarised listeners with some accusing it of being a lavish ROXY MUSIC rip-off while others praised it for its evocative, dancefloor charm. While the single was perfection in itself, the 7 minute ‘Australian Disco Mix’ on the 12 inch (featured on Repertoire’s ‘The 12 Inches’ compendium) was a delightful addition and pushed its Mick Karn styled bass playing and Sylvian-esque backing vocals to the forefront. Although it made the UK Top 20 singles chart, it deserved to be a far bigger hit!
With the success of ‘Hey Little Girl’ in the UK, Chrysalis Records swiftly reissued ‘Primitive Man’, but with a new cover and re-titled it after the interim single ‘Love In Motion’ to reflect the altered tracklisting. While the album was very much of its time, ‘Primitive Man’ aka ‘Love In Motion’ contained some of ICEHOUSE’s best work.
‘Street Café’ was an excellent single but did little to dispel the Roxy rip-off accusations… it actually chucked more wood on the bonfire by sounding even more like BRYAN FERRY than ‘Hey Little Girl’! There was also the quirky ADAM & THE ANTS gone electro of ‘Glam’ but the grandest gesture came from the epic ‘Great Southern Land’.
Written as a response to the horrible ‘Down Under’ by MEN AT WORK, Davies had been particularly dismayed by the “ain’t we wacky?” portrayal of his homeland by his fellow Aussies. Not included though on ‘White Heat: 30 Hits’ but also worthy of mention from ‘Primitive Man’ is ‘Trojan Blue’. Never released as a single, the song captured the stylish drama of ICEHOUSE which set them apart from their contemporaries.
The album led to the call from Mr Bowie and the recruitment of a new ICEHOUSE live band featuring noted bassist and stand-up comedian Guy Pratt. With ‘Hey Little Girl’ becoming a significant European hit and interest in Antipodean music at an all time high with the likes of MIDNIGHT OIL and SPLIT ENZ (soon to mutate into CROWDED HOUSE) also on the scene, 1984 should have been time to capitalise.
But instead, ICEHOUSE released the dreadful ‘Taking The Town’ as the calling card for the new long player ‘Sidewalk’. One disgruntled hack called it “Wang Chung meets Japan!” and although it was intended as an ironic commentary on hooligan culture, the in-yer-face yobbish chorus did not appeal after the reflective overtones of ‘Primitive Man’. The sombre ballad ‘Don’t Believe Anymore’ was unable to halt the downward spiral.
After the disappointment of ‘Sidewalk’, ground needed to be recaptured and with the enlistment of noted British producers Rhett Davies and David Lord, this was achieved with the more esoteric and expansive ‘Measure For Measure’. From it was the superbly atmospheric lead single ‘No Promises’, effectively a rework of Bowie and Metheny’s ‘This Is Not America’. Again wearing his influences on his sleeve, Davies clearly referenced his contemporaries but put his own stamp on proceedings.
Also from the album, ‘Cross The Border’ managed to sucessfully combine SIMPLE MINDS with DURAN DURAN. Co-written with regular guitarist and collaborator Bob Kretschmer, the song began as a rhythmical programming error on the Fairlight which in turn triggered off a Prophet 5; and to complete the experimental circle, there was Steve Jansen on drums and Brian Eno on backing vocals to boot!
‘Measure For Measure’ set the scene for a big international breakthrough. From ICEHOUSE’s fifth album ‘Man Of Colours’, the anthemic ‘Crazy’ took the lead from SIMPLE MINDS’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ and roused the senses via a thoroughly brilliant chorus. Meanwhile ‘Electric Blue’, co-written with John Oates of HALL & OATES fame was simply tailor made for American FM radio.
But it was the beautiful ‘Man Of Colours’ title track that was the centrepiece of the album, combining electronics with woodwinds (Davies was an oboe player with the Sydney Youth Orchestra) in a song that could have easily come from the ‘Measure To Measure’ sessions. Overall, the album was certainly ICEHOUSE’s most universally accessible and led to them touring the world throughout in 1988; ‘Man Of Colours’ is still the highest-selling album in Australia by an Australian band.
With no new album forthcoming, the next single was the straightforward rock pop of ‘Touch The Fire’ and issued to promote an ICEHOUSE best of ‘Great Southern Land’ in 1989. Another song recorded for the compilation ‘Jimmy Dean’ followed a similar line but then after that, ICEHOUSE lost momentum with 1990’s ‘Code Blue’ and 1993’s ‘Big Wheel’ albums only appealing to their hardcore fanbase.
However, 1997’s ‘The Berlin Tapes’ unplugged covers project (from which no songs feature on this collection) recorded for the Sydney Dance Company provided an interesting showcase tribute to Davies’ influences ranging from ROXY MUSIC, DAVID BOWIE and TALKING HEADS to LOU REED and FRANK SINATRA to PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, THE CURE and KILLING JOKE.
Since then, Iva Davies has recorded a number of solo albums and scored the soundtrack for the Russell Crowe film ‘Master & Commander’ in 2003.
But more recently, ICEHOUSE have enjoyed a renaissance in Australia following a return to live performance with the ‘Primitive Colours’ retrospective shows.
Very much under rated in the UK, ‘White Heat: 30 Hits’ is a great way of discovering ICEHOUSE’s fabulous music from an era when people were far too interested in the macho posturing of INXS’ Michael Hutchence and Sting-isms of MEN AT WORK as far as Australian acts were concerned to have noticed the songcraft of Iva Davies.
As the man himself sang: “I am a man, a simple man… a man of colours”
The Electricity Club came into being on 15th March 2010 following the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party at Sheffield Magna.
The year also saw the release of a new album by OMD in ‘History Of Modern’, their first since 1996 while there was the emergence of new acts such as VILLA NAH, MIRRORS and HURTS.
At the end of 2009 when LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX heralded a renaissance in the sound of the synth, KRAFTWERK’s Ralf Hütter said to Mojo Magazine: “From all our work comes inspiration. We have been very lucky because the music we envisioned, the ideas we had of The Man-Machine and electro music, have become reality and technology has developed in our direction… and electro is everywhere!”
In a tremendous year for all things electro, here is The Electricity Club’s Top 30 songs of 2010 in alphabetical order by artist:
CHRISTINA AGUILERA & LADYTRON Birds Of Prey
In 2008, there was much talk of CHRISTINA AGUILERA going electro and collaborating with LADYTRON. Fast forward to 2010 and the two finished tracks ‘Birds Of Prey’ and ‘Little Dreamer’ were relegated to bonus track status on her album Bionic, with the latter being available only on iTunes. ‘Birds Of Prey’ softens the percussive noise that dominated ‘Velocifero’ with Ms Aguilera showing some great vocal restraint herself, with an almost hypnotic Middle Eastern feel.
ARP is New Yorker Alexis Georgopoulos who crafts gorgeous contemporary kosmische musik for the 21st century. Beautiful synth strings plus the spectre of KRAFTWERK and CLUSTER dominate this cute instrumental. Some minimal guitar adds texture to the pulsing accompaniment, recalling other German heroes such as MICHAEL ROTHER and MANUEL GOTTSCHING.
AU REVOIR SIMONE Tell Me (Un Autre Monde Remix by MIRRORS)
Although AU REVOIR SIMONE have a wispy girls next door demeanour, this remix by MIRRORS recrafts the originally bare ‘Tell Me’ into a dense apocalyptic ditty which makes Erika Forster, Annie Hart and Heather D’Angelo sound almost suicidal! With its heavy synthetic percussive backbone, this is definitely dance music from another world! Like an alternative gothic disco soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’!
Shimmering Emulator type strings, pulsing sequences and a rousing chorus make this a very immediate slice of synthesized pop. BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT mainman Rod Thomas reworks the template of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and gives it a bit of a sensitive new man outlook. ‘Love Part II’ is NEW ORDER’s disco music for lager louts taken back to its slightly camper Italo roots. Not one for those who wear football shirts to the pub!
Assisted by I Monster’s Dean Honer who also co-produced THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Night People, THE CHANTEUSE & THE CRIPPLED CLAW’s first single ‘Are You One?’ has Candie Payne’s very classic pop presence coupled with Adrian Flanagan’s eccentronic backing. It wonderfully sounds like SANDIE SHAW being backed by a BBC Radiophonic Workshop collaboration with LALO SCHIFRIN!
Usually dealing in a brand of “8-bit Casiotone drone-disco” sounding like YEAH YEAH YEAHS with synths, CHEW LIPS look like OMD being led by Debbie Harry! And they take the OMD thing further here with their best track ‘Rising Tide’. The haunting piano, precise drum machine and bass with sparkling synth-harp runs and a spirited vocal come together nicely to build up to a rousing crescendo.
Available exclusively as a download on the album ‘Unicorn’ from iTunes.
Here are the young men of DELPHIC, continuing the electronic dance / rock fusion pioneered by the legend of Factory Records. The backing is pure NEW ORDER and reinforced by a great klanky guitar solo which would do Bernard Sumner proud. Now, if DELPHIC could just develop things into great pop songs like ‘Halcyon’ rather than some of the prolonged jams and grooves that dominate their debut album ‘Acolyte’.
‘Dark Pleasures’ fuses Simon Owen’s dense electronics and stark dance beats with Rebecca Morgan’s melodically rich vocal interfaces. This is synthpop with a dark, sexy edge with Rebecca sounding like a lost SUGABABE accidentally finding her way into a DEPECHE MODE recording session! Precise pulse driven electro, it provides a wonderfully euphoric topline and chorus with that guilty pleasure of a handbag rave styled vocal.
With their melodic and glacial electronic disco, you’d think they were Scandinavian, but THE GOLDEN FILTER consist of an Aussie in Penelope Trappes and a Yank in Stephen Hindman. Penelope’s vocals have an uplifting quality on the chorus while still retaining a distant chill but the counter melodies compliment the danceable twists. A little I Feel Love creeps in during the chorus to give a wonderful dancefloor adrenalin rush.
As the title suggests, this is gorgeous and dreamy with a distinct European flavour from the enjoyable album ‘Head First’ which perhaps is more focused on mid-Atlantic AOR. Alison’s voice still resonates as one of the best in the business and back to being accompanied by primarily electronic instrumentation which is where it belongs. The pulsing sequences and string machine washes of ‘Dreaming’ make this perfect dancefloor material.
Mr Ferry has certainly been astute in recognising how much of an influence he’s been on younger musicians and accepting collaborative opportunities with modern dance luminaries such as HELL and GROOVE ARMADA. DJ HELL provides U Can Dance’ with some hard electronic backing, complimenting Ferry’s trademark vocals. Ferry recorded his own Roxy styled version for his solo album ‘Olympia’.
Hypnotic in the spirit of Giorgio Moroder crossed with Arthur Baker and featuring the guest vocals of Jerry Valuri who first collaborated with Hulkkonen on 2005’s ‘Lo-Fiction’, this dark club track’s spacey rolling sequences make this almost like a dancefloor take on THROBBING GRISTLE’s ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ before launching into a bit of New York electro disco!
After Philip Oakey’s collaborations in 2009 with LITTLE BOOTS and PET SHOP BOYS, THE HUMAN LEAGUE returned with the lead track from their forthcoming album ‘Credo’ sounding very electronic and very modern. Punchy with an elastic bassline and chanting chorus, the lyrical couplet “leave your cornflakes in your freezers, leave your chocolates and your cheeses…” shows Mr Oakey hasn’t lost his touch for off-the-wall symbolism. So “Join us now my friends we hail you!”
HURTS have been certainly accused of style over substance. ‘Wonderful Life’ looked like being a one-off but luckily they have some other magnificent songs to back up their European art house film via the Weimar Republic persona. With ‘Stay’, the heartfelt intensity of the lush arrangement captures the understated but epic sophistication. With the symphonic grandeur of ULTRAVOX fronted by the melodic sensibilities of TAKE THAT, is this a ‘Vienna’ for the early 21st Century?
From the album of the same name, Texan duo HYPPERBUBBLE have an almost cartoon-like take on synthpop in the vein of that great lost combo VIC TWENTY who released only one single on Mute. ‘Candy Apple Daydreams’ is fun and quirky with Jess as the electro Emma Peel and Jeff as the obedient robotic version of John Steed.
Electro Weimar Cabaret is the easiest way to describe the music of KATJA VON KASSEL. Lies’ features strong traditional European influences like French accordions and ‘Vienna’ piano but also has hints of GRACE JONES ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before’. Not entirely surprising as both songs are routed in the same dance… the tango. LADYHAWKE collaborator Alex Gray’s intricate production alongside Katja’s magnificently deep vocal presence is like the “1930’s meets the future”.
From what appears to be the only electronic based act that the real music purists positively fawn over, this is a superbly guitar free number that sounds like ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN mashed up with GARY NUMAN and early DEPECHE MODE. The wonderfully wobbly synths and steady drum machine beat take the lead in the poptastic style of Vince Clarke while James Murphy’s vocal hits a soaring falsetto after initiating a ‘Mac The Mouth’ tribute.
LOLA DUTRONIC are a duo who adapt classic Anglo-Gallic pop with modern electronic arrangements. ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ borrows from the more recent past with quite obvious references to OMD, ERASURE and even PULP. It’s cutesy pop, perhaps reminiscent of prime SAINT ETIENNE and Lola’s accent is just alluring!
Using a bit of Fe-Mael intuition, Marina Diamandis adds eccentricity to some catchy keyboard led pop helmed by the ubiquitous Greg Kurstin. “I have become my own self fulfilled prophecy” she proclaims before she screams up two operatic octaves taking a nod towards classic SPARKS while the coda turns into a Cossack dance! Frankly, this is brilliantly bonkers!
Aided by Stuart Price at the mixing helm, Ms Minogue’s best single since the KRAFTWERK-tinged ‘Slow’ is euphoric Euro-disco with some wonderful synthetic tones, especially on the solo. There’s something for everybody here in this fabulous pop song. Shame about the ‘Aphrodite’ album though.
MIRRORS hail from Brighton, the UK capital of hedonism but their intense and artful approach to dancing is very different to the ‘hands in the air’ culture of their home base. Synthetic chill and pulsing effects dominate this brilliantly uptempo electro number. Rhythmically this recalls TALKING HEADS ‘Crosseyed & Painless’ while the claustrophobic production is very post-punk, wonderfully dense but melodically dramatic. A brilliant introduction to The World of MIRRORS.
In the true innovating spirit of their classic era, the sparse percussive framework of ‘New Holy Ground’ is merely the sound of footsteps. This is the nearest they have come to the lost B-side and fan favourite ‘The Avenue’. The wonderful piano line and virtual choirs contribute to the beautiful melancholy that characterised OMD’s best work where Paul Humphreys concentrated on the musical backbone while Andy McCluskey provided the narrative focus.
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD White Night
In period which has seen a flurry of solo activity and the reformation of DUBSTAR, the lovely SARAH BLACKWOOD took time out to work with on a track from his album ‘My Oracle Lives Uptown’. Although a version without her ended up on the final tracklisting, her take was offered as a free download in 2010. More accessible than some of CLIENT’s recent offerings but more purely electronic than DUBSTAR, this was a priceless pop gem from our Sarah which lyrically was “full of pain”.
Supermagic sees some DIVINE intervention in a throbbing Bobby Orlando influenced remix. The original meanwhile has a 6/8 glam beat and sounds like MADONNA impersonating GOLDFRAPP. Taking their electro into a pure pop direction, John and Amii certainly don’t let up on that glitterballed dancefloor.
More bittersweet heartbreak from Ms Carlsson, this is driven by wonderful, edgy electronics while the simultaneous dancing and mourning reflects the vulnerability everyone experiences in the loss of love. Solemn synthetic disco at its best from the feisty, independently spirited Swede who is slowly turning into a modern day GINA X PERFORMANCE.
Euphoric sensualism captured in three and a half minutes, the chunky pulsing sequences to a solid dance beat and a rousing chorus add a blissful optimism full of Latin spirit. ‘Wonderful Night’ is bouncy danceable electropop that does what it says on the tin. As their own mission statement announces, it’s “Electronic pop, Buenos Aires style!”
No, this isn’t a misprint! The hidden track on the reunited Manchester boy band’s Stuart Price produced opus ‘Progress’ is an electronic gem. In a rare lead vocal for Jason Orange, he comes over all apologetic in the manner of AL STEWART over a dreamy backing track that possesses the glacial Scandinavian quality of ROYKSOPP with a sprinkling of ENO-esque textural ambience. Beginning with soothing vocoder before building to a percussive climax, this is simply quite beautiful!
TENEK have successfully smoothed off some of their more industrial edges to deliver their most immediate and accessible song yet. A rousing chorus and a structure not dissimilar to THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, there are further synth anthems galore on their album On The Wire with nods to the MTV-era of TEARS FOR FEARS and A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS. “Heartbeat? Get down!” Synthetic dance rock at its best.
VILE ELECTRODES are a colourful trio consisting of Anais Neon, Loz Tronic and Martin Swan who formed due to an unhealthy obsession with analogue synthesizers and fetish porn. ‘Deep Red’, a title inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’, is a gorgeous seven and a half minute synth ballad that comes over like CLIENT fronting classic ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK… tremendously dramatic stuff in the vein of Statues and Stanlow!
Have you ever heard GARY NUMAN almost jaunty? The fantastic ‘Remains Of Love’ is the poppiest thing that the former Gary Webb never recorded. Juho Paalosmaa is next to crying in the wonderful chorus but it’s almost sounds like GARY NUMAN on prozac over Tomi Hyyppä’s crystalline melodies. With that all important air synth factor, VILLA NAH took the important elements of classic electronic pop and connected it to sharp, complimentary dance rhythms.