After the unexpected success of his 2016 CIRCUIT3 debut ‘siliconchipsuperstar’, Peter Fitzpatrick bought some more synths and followed up in 2019 with ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’.
Like a dystopian Howard Jones album fashioned from the roots of Synth Britannia, Martyn Ware of HEAVEN 17 said: “The album sounds great! Glad current artists are keeping the faith with quality songwriting”
Indeed, the most Howie sounding of its tracks ‘The Rain’ has been issued a single, complete with a host of remixes.
Now while DEPECHE MODE play in the rain and so does Taylor Swift, CIRCUIT3 uses ‘The Rain’ as a metaphor to embrace all emotions in life so that the good times will come over even brighter. The original version was like ‘Don’t Always Look At The Rain’ from ‘Human’s Lib’ reimagined by Philp K Dick, a musical coping strategy with a touch of Guinness that the late Rutger Hauer would have been proud of for all sorts of reasons.
The GravitySlip Remix adds a synthetic percussion backbone which works well in more noisy environments like cars and pulls of the feat of not being too overbearing on the original song, even maybe enhancing it in an understated manner. Meanwhile Acko’s Remix begins in a rather funereal fashion before exploding into steadfast gothic rock halfway through and the CHON Dublin Remix adds a MASSIVE ATTACK vibe.
There is also instrumental dub version included which allows the more subtle elements of ‘The Rain’ to be heard more clearly; but speaking of instrumentals, the EP include three original previously unreleased instrumentals which will appeal enormously to fans of atmospheric synth B-sides from back in the day.
The best of these is ‘Overview Effect’, a classic synth number with fabulous textures, voicing and rhythmic effects, each part having its place like in all the great instrumentals.
The more atmospheric ‘Transmissions’ is punctuated by Jarre-like beeps and sweeps but perhaps more surprisingly, there’s a sharp burst of digitised slap bass.
Meanwhile, ‘Blinded By The Sun’ could be retitled ‘Blinded By the Odyssey’ with ARP derived sirens penetrating the Moog Sub37 bass, sparking Roland Jupiter 4 arpeggios and CP70 ivory foundations.
These three instrumentals are actually tasters for the third CIRCUIT3 album and with a planned lyric for ‘Blinded By The Sun’ going “count the lies from 1 to 45”, the midlife angst continues for Peter Fitzpatrick. Now that can only mean the potential for even more great synth music to emerge from CIRCUIT3.
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.
That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…
MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.
Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.
It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.
This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.
Artwork by Heloisa Flores
The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.
It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
“My debut album sold out… so I spent all the money on more synths…Why not?”
‘siliconchipsuperstar’, the debut album by CIRCUIT3 slipped out quietly in December 2015 but became one of the surprise independent success stories of 2016. Behind the CIRCUIT3 persona is Dubliner Peter Fitzpatrick, whose new synths have now been put to good use on ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, the long-awaited follow-up to ‘siliconchipsuperstar’.
But some things in the music biz never change, whatever the level and it has been that difficult second album. “Midway through the writing and recording of the album I paused to write a completely different album and look after my mental health”, Fitzpatrick recalled, “It was worth it. I feel better and I’ve got the next album already written. Every cloud eh?”
With a body of work that explores mental health, politics, human rights, love, contentment and dreams which feature Martin Gore in leather, in a CIRCUIT3 interview with The Electricity Club, Fitzpatrick added “With so much populism and division undermining our society I want to focus on the value and not the price.”
It was a dream about a leather clad Martin Gore that his friend Brian McCloskey had that inspired the lyrics to the excellent album opener ‘Safe To Sleep’; dressed in that iconic Vox Humana Polymoog made famous by Gary Numan, its booming sound is offset by breathy girl whispers from Nicola Stephanie Sangs.
Referencing corruption and various abuse scandals in Ireland, big blocks of sinister human host from a Behringer VC340 vocoder expose that ‘Dirty Little Secret’. The feistier ambition of ‘Sold My Soul’ punches to illustrate Fitzpatrick’s assertion that “At some point you have to do or die” while ‘Electric’ does what it says on the tin with bleeps and a big synthetic brass line.
Dealing with the spectre of depression, ‘DNA’ is a sombre but positive statement on how to accept and work around it. It’s a steadfast take on a subject that Rodney Cromwell touched on with‘Black Dog’, utilsing crystalline synths and effective use of Compurhythm while allowing a confession that “some days are better than others”.
Rigid and melodic, ‘Fall In Love Again’ expresses that feeling of finding happiness while attached to a sprightly Clarkean backdrop. But that joy becomes tempered on the emotive ‘Face In The Crowd’; dedicated to Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy of Kurdish ethnic background whose image made global headlines after he drowned in the Mediterranean, the song needs no explanation as a sad musical eulogy to a wasted life and the lack of compassion in today’s societies.
‘Breaking Point’ offers some political reflection and highlights the absurdity of the current divisive stand-offs. Amongst the impressive layers and different textures that waft in and out, Fitzpatrick socks it to those pompous power hungry posh boys: “But you took back control? How are you feeling about it in the cold?”
Sparse raindrop arpeggios from a Jupiter 4 shape ‘The Rain’ which could be Howard Jones’ ‘Don’t Always Look At The Rain’ from ‘Human’s Lib’ reimagined by Philip K Dick; it acts as an embracement of the rain, because it makes the sunshine seem much brighter. It is a musical coping strategy with a touch of Guinness that should be embraced; the late Rutger Hauer would be proud for all sorts of reasons.
Closing with the previously released ‘For Your Own Good’, if the idea of a dystopian Howard Jones album fashioned from the roots of Synth Britannia appeals, then ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’ is for you. Channelling middle aged angst and concerns about steps to the right in a world that is becoming more and more like punk never happened, this album is melodic vintage synth ear candy with a dose of gloom.
“I want to keep getting better at songwriting and making music that people want to listen to” that CIRCUIT3 synthpop chap said.
“With the new album ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, I feel I’m doing that. I’m keeping the flame alive for those sounds and hopefully developing my songwriting along the way” – well, as far as CIRCUIT3 is concerned, Fitzpatrick has achieved that!
‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’ is released by Diode Records, available as a CD, vinyl LP or download from https://circuit3.bandcamp.com/
A truly international line-up gathered for Synth Wave Live 3, with acts from three continents present at London’s Electrowerkz on a rare sunny day in what has been a very rainy June.
Combining synthpop and new wave, hence the “Synth” and “Wave” tagline of the event, it was as if acid house had never happened.
Featuring a range of musicians from original Some Bizzare trailblazers and prog synthpop veterans to various musical descendants of Mute Records, things all came nicely together for a varied but coherent bill with no rude awakening…
With a stage set comprising of TV monitors and glowing projections directed by Outland VJ Will Cunningham, THE DEPARTMENT opened Synth Wave Live 3 by performing tracks from the recently released ‘Pressure’ EP, a body of work channelling a midlife angst with observations on the now pathetically normal phenomenon of deluded narcissism in amongst its subject matter.
Following on was the stunning Parisian presence of YS ATLOVE who began her set with the danceable Europop of ‘Back To Yesterday’.With her alluring stage manner and appealing nouvelle vague disco, she also presented her cover of ‘True Faith’, NEW ORDER’s paradoxically radio friendly tune about narcotic dependency, and prompted the first audience singalong of the day. Meanwhile, ‘You Can’t Fool Me’ revealed her moodier side.
Having been out of music for nearly four years, her return to live performance has without doubt rejuvenated her muse. But while YS ATLOVE may have approached things cautiously, there was not fear of that from CIRCUIT3. Armed with his Behringer MS-101 clone, the Dublin synthpop chap took to the stage to showcase material from his well-received ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ long player and the forthcoming second album ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’.
Wearing a heavy black leather great coat inspired by Midge Ure at Live Aid, Peter Fitzpatrick’s songs like the dreamy ‘Ghost Machine’ and frantic ‘Hundred Hands’ donned their hat to HOWARD JONES and HEAVEN 17 respectively, while an affectionate reinterpretation of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Being Boiled’ affirming CIRCUIT3’s spiritual connection to Synth Britannia.
Meanwhile, new tunes like ‘Breaking Point’ offered some political reflection with accompanying footage of a dancing policeman highlighting the absurdity of the current divisive stand-offs.
JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM is possibly Europe’s greatest synthpop secret; best known as a member of DAILY PLANET, the Swede however has been making a fine impression with his escapist solo work, as with the delightfully ERASURE-ish ‘Running Away From Myself’. But there were also more weightier concerns like the environment on ‘Like Before’ and the madness of materialism on Utopia’. He then naturally ventured ‘Into The 80s’ with a synthetic cover of a 1979 song by Canadian rocker Nick Gilder.
Although Baeckström is unashamedly candid about the influence of Vince Clarke on his music, another lesser known facet to his sound is that of prog synth trio WHITE DOOR who released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983. Having covered ‘School Days’ and ‘Jerusalem’ as B-sides, Baeckström invited Mac Austin, John Davies and Harry Davies to join him on stage for the first live rendition of those songs featuring the original band for 35 years.
Austin was in good voice although he was slightly overwhelmed as he came in a bar early for the chorus of ‘Jerusalem’. But this slight slip just brought smiles from all concerned on this highly emotional occasion. New material from WHITE DOOR featuring Baeckström as a new member is on the way with a promise of more live performances.
The wild cards of Synth Wave Live 3 and the youngsters of the event, synth assisted post-punk trio CENTRE EXCUSE offered some exuberant energy to proceedings. Comprising of Teddy Lewis, Alex Rush and James Caine, their sound can be best exemplified by the single ‘Let It Ride’ which combines THE CURE and guitar driven NEW ORDER with elements of Britpop and occasional synthesizer textures.
A tight and engaging live band, their good looks certainly won’t do them any harm, with front man Lewis particularly noticeable thanks to his resemblance to Joseph Gordon-Levitt when he was in ‘3rd Rock From The Sun’. The joyous ‘Thank You (For Moving Me Up)’ had the bonus of some cascading voice-derived samples and with ‘Moon, Sky & Stars’ expressing their interest in synthesizers, it will be interesting to see if CENTRE EXCUSE do a MUMM-RA and morph into something like MIRRORS!
Hailed within the Synthwave community, the charming Italian EUGENE gave a superbly energetic performance which included a passion and physicality that was the antithesis of the static laptop boys often associated with that scene. With his love of European synthpop, there were tunes, vocoders and uptempo rhythms too, particularly during the superb ‘HR Diagram’ with its inherent danceability and the Casiotone driven ‘Promenade’.
LISBON KID’s Danny De Matos joined EUGENE to reprise their collaboration ‘Waiting For You’ before the Portuguese singer / songwriter outlined an important message about suicide awareness via a cover of RADIOHEAD’s ‘No Surprises’ which would have upset purists with its electronic rearrangement, but was glorious none the less. Ending with the catchy Italo flavoured pulse of ‘Radiowave’, it was an impressive performance by Signore Valente.
Like WHITE DOOR, Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE deserved greater recognition for their work back in the day, having achieved critcal acclaim and BBC Radio1 airplay. Their appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ with SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE, THE THE and BLANCMANGE had earmarked them for great things, but wider fame as a band was to pass by Steve Hovington, Rick Holliday, Graham Boffey and Paul Statham.
However quality numbers like ‘Polar Opposites’, ‘Moles’ and ‘Institution Walls’ performed tonight only highlighted how their music has stood the test of time. There was a slight technical glitch during ‘Welcome To The Shrink’, but things got back on track with the synthetic chill of ‘Stalingrad’, a single as good as anything B-MOVIE did in their creative prime when they were considered to have more potential than SOFT CELL.
Of course, the songs that fulfilled that promise ‘Nowhere Girl’ and ‘Remembrance Day’ closed a highly enjoyable set and while commercial success may have eluded B-MOVIE, the fact that they are here still making great new music is a blessing and a bonus.
SOL FLARE have changed considerably since their charismatic vocalist Jenny Jones departed in 2018. But since then, Australian musician Dominic Wood has soldiered on with the name as a solo act with primarily instrumental material and the occasional song with guest vocalists. Not far from a DJ set with a neon tinged backdrop, the club friendly vibe kept things warm.
Closing proceedings were LUCKY+LOVE from sunny Los Angeles. With a new album ‘Transitions’ just unleashed for public consumption, April Love’s vocal enthusiasm could not be doubted on during their brooding set. The duo’s indie darkwave soundtrack was a fitting backdrop to finish Synth Wave Live 3 as Electrowerkz transformed itself into the long standing resident Goth club night Slimelight and the regular clientele drifted in.
With a wide age range of acts celebrating the art of synthpop and new wave, Synth Wave Live 3 entertained with its multi-generational line-up. What stood out most throughout the event were the songs being performed, whether as originals or cover versions from the Synth Britannia era or as brand new work influenced by that amazingly creative period of crafted synthetic material.
As JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM himself sang in ‘Synth Is Not Dead’, his own rather wonderful tribute to the electronic pop form: “Some might say that it’s an old forgotten relic from the past. But I claim it is the most inspiring music to be heard…”
The Electricity Club really couldn’t have put it much better itself ??
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Rob Green
‘siliconchipsuperstar’ by CIRCUIT3 slipped out quietly in December 2015 but became one of the surprise independent success stories of 2016.
The work of Dubliner Peter Fitzpatrick, it was a musical love letter to the classic era of electronic pop between 1978-1982 and like TUBEWAY ARMY’s debut long player, the blue vinyl edition sold out. Rather than go on a cruise or buy a DeLorean, he spent his royalties on more synths!
Those synths have been put to good use on ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, the new album from CIRCUIT3 due out in Spring 2019 on Diode Records.
Acting as a trailer to the album, ‘For Your Own Good’ is arguably the first Irish synthpop hip hop crossover featuring CIRCUIT 3 working with Ricki Rawness, a respected figure on the Irish urban music scene who is not your average MC…
Peter Fitzpatrick took time out to chat about his love of electronic music, his thoughts on the current fashion for Synthwave and stalking the pioneers of Synth Britannia with his Arturia MiniBrute…
It would be fair to say ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ was an unexpected success? Why do you think listeners connected with it?
It exceeded all of my expectations. Originally I just wanted to make an album that echo’d my teen years and love of that 1978-82 era of synthpop and electronic music, put it out on vinyl and create a couple of promo videos. Above all else I wanted to have some fun.
I thought I’d sell a handful of copies and get a few video views. I didn’t expect the vinyl to sell out or for my mailing list to quadruple in size or for the gigs and festivals and offers of collaboration to happen. That’s the quantitative measure of success, but for me the true success was in making the LP and sticking to my vision of what I wanted to do. On that measure alone, it was hugely successful.
Why listeners connected is something I can definitely talk about because I have the messages from them. They loved the genre and sounds I used as it reminded them of those artists that we share a love and fascination for. All art is theft and so is using motifs and sounds, but I’m ok with that. I’m a magpie.
Another recurring message from the listeners was my old school approach to physical product, making promo videos and not taking it too seriously. They really enjoyed holding the album reading the lyrics and possessing something that was theirs alone. Synthpop is not dead!
What had inspired you to do a synthpop album after many years in rock?
After a number of years playing quite happily in rock bands and earning a living as a composer and sound designer, I was caught up in this belief that nobody wanted to hear my electronic music and that there wasn’t an audience for synthpop anyway. I thought people were only listening to ‘crappy-4tothefloor-house-handbag-squelchy-303’ dance music from whatever EDM EBD ABC XYZ genre was flavour of the month. I was so incredibly wrong.
What triggered it all was when I heard that there was a KRAFTWERK tribute show in Dublin and went along to see THE ROBOTS. Supporting was the Dublin artist POLYDROID. I was blown away both by the music that night but also the crowd at the gig. I must have made a dozen new friends in the space of 3 hours. After the gig we were all talking about our favourite artists. This sounds like a stupid movie story but next day I went online and bought a keyboard controller and a softsynth package (Vintage Collection from Arturia). I started writing and in the first 2 weeks wrote ‘Blue Diary’ and ‘New Man’. I was hooked again. I remembered what I loved.
Don’t get me wrong though. I learned a huge amount when I was in rock / pop bands and made some lifelong friends. Brian Downey, THIN LIZZY’s drummer, taught me a lot about how to push and pull the beat live and of course I grilled him about Midge Ure’s time in the band. Brian is a lovely man and one of the most underrated drummers in the world.
In all that time in rock bands I learned how to structure songs and I learned about confidence when onstage – if you don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself on stage, how is the audience going to feel? Playing in those bands paid my way through university and gave me some lifelong friends. I bumped into Brian shortly after ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ came out and he was fascinated by it – kept referring to Midge and Rusty. He thought it was brilliant that Rusty had played ‘Hundred Hands’ on his show after someone had recommended it to Rusty. He knew Rusty from the early 80s and his work with Phil Lynott, Brian’s close friend and bandmate.
‘Hundred Hands’ had some wonderful drum programming…
Thank you – one review referenced Martyn Ware which is a huge compliment. There are three drum machine touchstones for me: the CR78 which John Foxx used on ‘Metamatic’, the Linn on THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ and HEAVEN 17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
I think Martyn is the funkiest lad from Sheffield ever. I have clear memory of programming that track and trying to mix between what a real drummer might do and then add some of those funky little off-beats that Martyn uses with Linn rimshots and claps, plus I used the toms like percussion instruments – something I think he has done in the past.
The not-so-secret sauce is to use some parallel compression on the drum subgroup. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I think the snare on that track is pretty dry which is unusual for me because I love a nice bit of gated reverb on my snares…. call me old fashioned….or Steve Levine…
‘Ghost Machine’ had a terrific icy synth pad, what did you use for that and how did the track come together?
Icy! That’s a lovely word to use about synths. I love icy sounds. That’s the Arturia version of the Solina string machine plus a layered sound from a Roland JP8000 and a touch of Roland Juno 106 underneath. There’s a bit of plate reverb on it too.
That track has a cracking story attached to it. Chatting online with a Facebook friend Brian McCloskey who is originally from Derry in Ireland but is now living in California, I mentioned I was making an album and he mentioned he had tried writing lyrics in the past. I rarely had success with a collaboration where a lyricist sends me their words and I write a song around them. We gave it a try and hit paydirt on the first song.
Brian runs the very wonderful blog hosting old issues of Smash Hits ‘Like Punk Never Happened’ and we have a shared love of synthpop and pop in general. Brian’s blog had garnered him credits on BBC documentaries about ‘Top Of The Pops’ plus after show party invites from Mr Gary Kemp from that there SPANDAU BALLET. He moves in all the right circles does Brian. He also has the best legs in California. Enough of that! *LAUGHS LOUDLY*
Back to the challenge in writing songs using someone else’s lyrics; I think the reason this worked is that I visualized what the promo video was going to look like. In my mind I saw ‘Metropolis’. Sure enough when I made the promo video I used that footage.
Have the two of you written anything else?
Brian and I have another song written and it’s a bit of a synthpop cracker even if I say so myself. It’s titled ‘Future Radio’ and sounds a little like the lovechild of BUGGLES and PET SHOP BOYS. I had hoped to include it on my next album but it doesn’t fit with the other tracks. I have other plans for it and can’t wait to release it. There’s a super little vocoder part in it.
Actually, Chi while I’m here and thinking about vocoders… I’m really p*ssed off with Waldorf. They announced a string machine and vocoder a year ago. It’s exactly what I want for ‘Future Radio’ and would be ideal for playing ‘Ghost Machine’ live. It’s complete Vaporware… hasn’t materialized and I’ve had it on pre-order since early 2018! I wish they wouldn’t tease like that.
I’ll bet they’re holding off because Behringer claim to be making a clone of the classic Roland VP-330. If anyone in Dublin is reading and has a proper vocoder to loan me for a day?
Was the minimal structure of ‘In Your Shoes’ influenced by anyone in particular?
Very much so – well spotted. The song was written the week that Robin Williams died. I remembered the quote attributed to him “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” and being quite affected by his illness and what must have been a tortured state of mind that he would lead him to take his own life.
The music, arrangement and production was very heavily influenced by my favourite Howard Jones song ‘Law Of The Jungle’. I think that’s one of his finest tracks and it was only a B-side! I got to ask Howard about the song in the context of a Q&A with him at Metropolis Studios in late 2018. I’d been saving that question since 1984. I do play the long game sometimes! *laughs*
My recording is almost entirely Arturia ‘Modular’ softsynth which is an emulation of the Moog modular system. One of Howard’s trademarks is hitting the occasional high note. He has a very good falsetto. Howard’s an artist who is unfairly written out of Synth Britannia and attracts snide comments. What sort of war crime did Howard commit? I’d like to see some of the people who knock him try doing what he did live with an 808, Moog Prodigy and a Jupiter8. They probably wouldn’t know the difference between a tape recorder and a drum machine anyway. I’ve never understood the nasty responses to his work.
Which songs have been your own favourites?
Off the new album ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, it’s a pure pop song called ‘I Don’t Want To Fall in Love Again’. It’ll be a single and one of the remixers said it sounded like something off the third YAZOO album that never happened. Possibly that’s the Fairlight samples I used for the rhythm track – almost PET SHOP BOYS I think.
iEUROPEAN did a great remix which I’m delighted with. It’s pure pop and isn’t pretending to be anything else. I’d love to hear this covered by a female vocalist or re-recorded by Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn from BUGGLES.
Now, if you’re talking about the first album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’, I think it’s ‘New Man’ simply because it was the first song recorded for the album and in the live shows it always gets a great response. It opened some doors for me. It’s a track that lets me stomp and play that lead line on as nasty and loud a synth patch as I can put together. On a keytar … doubly so. I love pop so who can resist an opportunity to get the crowd to do the claptrap part? Yes… I borrowed that from ‘Being Boiled’ and I don’t care who knows *laughs*
I know some radio shows have picked up on the ‘New Man’ Numan thing but it’s not about Gary honest! It’s also in C Minor, which as every synthesist knows, is the darkest of all keys.
Talking of YAZOO, how do you look back on your tribute album ‘All I Ever Knew’?
With great fondness. Anyone who knows me will know I’m a huge fan of Vince and Alison. Recording ‘Upstairs At Erics’ was something I’d wanted to do since I first heard the LP in 1982. In truth, ‘All I Ever Knew’ was pure self-indulgence. I made it for me and happened to release it on CD.
I made two decisions before starting on the project. Firstly I decided to stick pretty close to the original sounds and arrangements. Secondly, I decided to bring in some guest vocalists.
The sounds and arrangements decision was the most difficult. With infinite resources and a brave heart, I might well have tried my hand at doing completely new takes on those songs. However, I don’t think that ever really works.
Very few ‘reworkings’ of classics are ever pulled off well. Most are pure crap and don’t get me started on rubbish twee ukulele interpretations of songs I love.
I did however put a couple of little twists and sounds into the recordings but purposefully stayed close to the originals. I’m such a fan that they’re like sacred texts! *laughs*
Working with Emma Barson, Neil Francis and Andy Patchell was really enjoyable. I sent a copy to Vince and he emailed me with some very kind words. The 16 year old me was dumbstruck *laughs*
Then before her show in Dublin I managed to meet Alison and gave her a copy. In return I got a hug. That’s a fair trade I think. Before you ask… no, I have no plans to record ‘You & Me Both’. If I had the chance to do it all again then all I would change is to start it a year earlier and have a go at properly reworking some of the tracks.
The new single is ‘For Your Own Good’, you’ve really gone to town on that with a video and some radical remixes? How would you describe its genesis?
‘For Your Own Good’ is a lesson in embracing collaboration opportunities.
That track was written about 18 months ago and has sat lonely on the digital shelf waiting for me to do something with it. I was mid-recording the YAZOO tribute and had been listening to HEAVEN 17 a lot.
The bassline is Juno 106 and I’m using the Aly James emulation of the Linn LM-1 drum machine. As I looped the bassline, I grabbed a mic and riffed on the notion of privacy, or lack of! I visualized CCTV cameras and Zuckerberg sticking his nose in where it’s not wanted.
Listening to the tracks for the new album, I offered it to a couple of remixers and one of them – a local lad Goldy – created this brilliant remix which has more hip-hop than synthpop. He brought in another Dublin artist Ricki Rawness who added his own spoken word rap to the track. There is no way in a million years that I’d have planned this, never mind known how to put it together.
What I really loved about where Goldy and Ricki took the remix was the words Ricki wrote which took the song into the territory of medication, mental health and the 9-to-5 grind. Arguably we’ve made the first synthpop hip-hop crossover *LAUGHS LOUDLY*
How did the video come about?
We were discussing the track and laughing about how much craic we’d have making a promo video. Well one thing led to another and I found myself with Goldy, Ricki an actress and a cameraman in a video studio in Dublin. We took half a day under Goldy’s direction and made some art. He interpreted the song as me sitting on a virtual bus while the negative sh*t that invades our brains sits alongside these characters invading my personal space.
The remixes really are ‘out there’. Fans of more traditional synthpop will be pleased to hear that there is a synthy extended remix too where you can really hear the Linn and the 106… oh and a remix by Duckworth from ANALOG ON who rendered a ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ type remix. He claims he remixed it on a recent trip to Mars. That’s the kind of friends I have! *laughs*
They’re all on the limited-edition CD single while the original track and Goldy’s remix are on digital platforms.
It has provoked some quite Marmite reactions! From “that’s quite something” to “I turned it off when the rap started” and all points in between. I knew this would happen and while my inner critic said “I told you so”, I remind myself that I’m doing this for me and nobody else. It’s not like I’m U2 and breaking into people’s iPods to force their music on them.
‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’ is the title of the forthcoming album, that’s quite a mouthful, is there a concept at all?
I do like my long-winded album titles don’t I? *laughs*
With so much populism and division undermining our society I want to focus on the value and not the price. It was also a misheard statement on Black Friday which my inner magpie borrowed. There’s a bit of a concept there. If I reflect on the subject matter of the songs the common thread is that they’re all dealing with some aspect of the human condition. Everything from allowing populism to distort your worldview (yes I wrote about Brexit in ‘New Beginning’) to contentment (‘I Don’t Want To Fall In Love Again’) with a stop off at regret (‘Sold My Soul)’ and mental health (‘The Rain’).
I waited until I had a set of songs which all worked together. That was a frustrating wait but one that was worth it I think. Simultaneously I’ve been working on a separate album which is very much a concept album in that it has a storyline – I’ll share more about that another day – and I have Hannah Peel to thank for inspiring me to do it.
Is ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’ a one-man musical show like ‘siliconchipsuperstar’? Anything you can reveal?
The new album features some backing vocals from my friend Andy Patchell and I’ve got friends contributing remixes. Aside from that, I won’t say more at this stage but there is a very cool artist I’m working with on a mini-album (or is that an EP?) who recently brought in a quite legendary UK electronic music pioneer to further the collaboration. And now we are three.
I had some songs that didn’t fit well with ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’ and they’re working nicely in this collaboration. My collaborator brings a fresh view on the songs and I have to admit it’s great not having to do all the lifting myself. It’s going to be a hell of a ride in the next 18 months plus I feel another batch of songwriting sessions coming on. Not nearly enough hours in the day to do all of this.
Have you brought any new synths on board? 😉
Chi, you bloody well know I have! How long have you got? *laughs*
One of the reasons I delayed rushing out a new album was to take time to explore some new synths and move out of softsynths. There were a couple of synths I really wanted and managed to find a Sequential Circuits Pro-One as well as a Roland Jupiter 4 in really minty condition. Both had been in storage for years. The Pro-One is like ‘instant Vince Clarke’ when you use a sequencer to manipulate the filter cut-off. Every person who meets it can’t help touching it and talking about ‘Upstairs At Erics’ *laughs*
The Jupiter 4 was an obvious choice and damn I feel sorry now for Vince having read that he carried it to ‘Top Of the Pops’ from the tube. It’s bloody heavy! Seriously it’d damn heavy. I found it in a tiny village on the west coast of Ireland – drove all the way there to get it one Saturday last spring.
What I love about the Jupiter 4 is both the filter and the arpeggiator behaviour. It was Clark Stiefel of MAISON VAGUE who really sold me on the Jupiter 4. Check out some of his videos on YouTube. Set-up a simple patch and let the filter modulate while running the arpeggiator. I could sit there for hours listening to it. Actually… I have… it’s like synthy AMSR *laughs*
The Jupiter 4 features prominently on the song “The Rain’ off the new album. It has this lovely raindrop-like sound but in a melancholic way. Aside from those synths I managed to get my hands on a Moog Sub37 because… well… Moog. It’s got this lovely beefy sound and is possibly my favourite bass synth.
On the drum machine side, I invested in a Dave Smith Instruments Tempest which has challenged me as It’s not a simple machine to operate. I also got a recreation of the Roland CR78 called the Beatbot TT78. It has that lovely metal beat. What I really like about them both is that they force me into processing the sounds when I record them. There’s a couple of tracks where I’vetaken the raw sound out of the Tempest and applied bit crushing or other effects from the Soundtoys plug-ins.
Shortly after releasing ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ I bought the Korg reissue of the ARP Odyssey. Anyone who admires Billy Currie will want one. What’s fascinating about that synth is that it doesn’t follow the so-called traditional left to right layout of oscillators into filter into envelope. It really messed with my head at first and even now when I go back to it I have to think through what I’m doing.
You know what’s the best fun? Putting the Odyssey through a bit of distortion and a delay or reverb, then pretending you’re Billy Currie while playing the filter live. I defy anybody to tell me otherwise *laughs*
It’s the synth version of singing along to with a hairbrush to the new DURAN DURAN single. That’s the thing with the Odyssey. It’s meant to be played on the keyboard with one hand while you ‘play’ the sliders with the other hand. It’s all over the new album especially on the track ‘Sold My Soul’. Big droning beefy wailing sound with lots of echo! What’s not to love?
What’s your favourite synth of all time?
How am I supposed to answer that question? Just one? I’m not having that! *LAUGHS LOUDLY*
My favourite mono synth is the Pro One because it has that Vince sound and is so versatile with all its modulation routings.
My favourite polysynth is the DX7… no just kidding, don’t print that! It’s the Juno 106 because that was my first synth back in 1985. Even now I go back to that synth for simple pads and mad little sequenced ear candy.
How have you managed to blend the mix of analogue and digital while still remaining authentic, do you have any particular stance on this?
Thanks – authentic is a massive compliment. I know this sounds corny but I do try to listen to what I’m doing and put it through the lens of someone producing in the 1970s or 1980s. Dammit, I’m mixing my metaphors again aren’t I? How do you put sounds through a lens? I suppose I could try *laughs*
What I mean is I try to achieve the aesthetic that served my musical heroes so well. Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn whether it’s analogue or digital. I really couldn’t! Having said that there is something gorgeous about analogue when it’s in full flow and executed well.
Let’s take an example: the Linn that was used on ‘Dare’. Should we hate it because it’s got digital in it? I can’t get on with the analogue snobbery. It’s all reduced to 1s and 0s anyway and life is too short.
Electronic pop within the Emerald Isle seems to be in a good state of health at the moment?
It is isn’t it? I’m afraid to list any artists in case I leave someone out. I will call out Hannah Peel though. Oh my god isn’t she brilliant? You recommended Hannah to me so I went to see her prior to my playing a show in London couple of years ago. That was a genius move Chi, I was thinking after seeing Hannah’s show that I was a complete fake *laughs*
So yeah thanks for that, it really set me up for playing my first London show. Hannah is doing exactly what I wish I’d been able to do had things been different in my particular circumstances. I totally admire and envy her in equal measures.
But back to the other artists on this island, I have to say there is some very cool stuff going on and the support CIRCUIT3 has received from other artists here has been really great. What is interesting is the absence of infighting which I’ve seen in other places. No breakaway gigs, festivals, radio shows or weird abnormal social media behaviour. The big problems we face here though are outside of our control.
The thing to understand about Ireland is that in almost every home here, there is a musician so the fact that someone makes music isn‘t at all unusual. So it’s really difficult to get people out to gigs aside from a hard core group of fans who I and others are very very grateful to. Music lovers are spoiled over here.
But there‘s still a heavy bias against electronic music in the venues, TV, Radio, print media. So for example there‘s my situation in mid-2016; I was selling vinyl copies of my debut album as fast as I could take them to the post office, I had been invited to play both the Electric Picnic which is arguably the equivalent of Glastonbury over here plus I was getting airplay on Dan Hegarty’s show on RTE as well as iRadio, plus of course multiple internet radio shows and was invited to play on a bill in London alongside some of the best UK artists and Wolfgang Flür, a former member of KRAFTWERK.
So how many column inches did Hot Press, the so-called go-to music and popular culture publication give to CIRCUIT3? They gave the square root of sod-all. Nothing. Not even an album review. I might as well be invisible. Yet the latest beardy fake folk hipster cr*p is flavour of the month. Some Z-list Bobby Dylan wannabe groans out loud and that’s worth writing about? Give me a break. It’s all so beige if you know what I mean?
Nothing has really changed since the 1980s here. There’s some weird fear or ignorance of synthpop here and it all gets lumped into a lazy ‘80s retro’ label.
Well, the electric guitar blues comes from where? Robert Johnson right? That’s the 1930s, so why isn’t electric blues guitar called ‘Retro 1930s music’?
All of the traditional music forms here haven’t changed in hundreds of years, but the ‘new and exciting’ trad artist is anything but. Music is, by and large, all good but I just can’t get my head around the conscious bias against electronic music here and especially synthpop. The tastemakers have no taste.
As a comparative success within independent circles, it must have been interesting to observe some of the comings and goings of other artists and their efforts to get traction, some of which have been a bit abnormal? What advice would you give to other artists on this? 😉
Oh where to begin? Well look. In my own head CIRCUIT3 is not a success really. I think there’s a way to go before CIRCUIT3 is a success I suppose. Another album for a starter. A tour would be nice.
My observations? I look at other artists and think to myself “damn they’re nailing it!” and then on the same day there’s some really weird stuff happening on social media. Everything from creating scenes that aren’t actually there, to social media personas that aren’t real. I mean don’t people realise that we’re capable of doing google searches?
For whatever it’s worth, my advice would be to focus on the music, ignore the sideshows, don‘t be an a*sehole and try to remember your own little bubble isn’t the world. Tell you what though, I’ve travelled over to gigs in the UK and met up with people and they’re so friendly and cool. I’ve met some great friends through being an ‘artist’ but I’ve seen some weird sh*t, really weird sh*t and if I’m truthful, some of the behaviour I’ve seen online has been quite bizarre. I can’t see how that benefits anyone’s music career.
As a long-time electronic music enthusiast, what do you make of this Synthwave thing?
Do you really want to know? This is a real bug-bear of mine! *laughs*
I think it’s a bit of old nonsense and that‘s as polite as I can be. It’s nostalgia for a sound that never really existed outside of maybe a couple of episodes of ‘Miami Vice’ and a Michael Shreeve album. I was there in the 1980s and this Synthwave thing simply didn’t exist. It’s a complete fraud! It’s like someone dropped acid and watched some YouTube videos.
It’s a complete fantasy. Whoever made it up deserves a medal. It’s a bit like Britpop label, an excuse for dull uninventive repetitive sh*te to be packaged up and sold to people. A saxophone and a Poly6 bass patch does not a song make. I did try to take a listen to some of this earlier this year and figured I’d try to have a go at making some of that sound. I got bored incredibly quickly… too quick to stick a saxophone on it, you’ll be glad to hear! I was going to put it out as a free download but decided against it, in case I got lumped in with the rest of it.
It was quite amusing when the Synthwave fraternity went into meltdown over the artwork of ‘Simulation Theory’ by MUSE?
I was on holiday at the time and thought it was pretty funny. A community built on a genre that never really existed getting their Filofaxes in a twist over a band that has a track record in pinching stuff from ULTRAVOX *laughs*
Ironic as MUSE have always used synths and borrowed heavily from ULTRAVOX since 2003…
I’m not in a position to throw stones though, Midge Ure will be after me for royalties if I’m not careful! *laughs*
If you’re going to borrow then borrow from the best I say. I think MUSE are great – they’re certainly selling more albums than CIRCUIT3 and playing to huge audiences. I can’t quite get my head around why they’ve spent so much time on Reddit as inspiration for their new album.
There was like a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude that you couldn’t use ‘glowing’ artwork unless your music comprised of meandering formless electronic instrumentals… discuss! 😉
Oh yeah ‘rules’ and ‘style’ right? I suspect this whole Synthwave thing was invented so that a couple of artists could feel they belong to a ‘scene’ and it just got out of control before someone could say the emperor has no clothes.
But look, it’s a very normal thing wanting to be part of a gang. Teenagers have done it for years. I dunno, I find the whole thing quite strange. I keep going back to the fact that this is unrecognisable to anyone who was a music fan in the 1980s. The glowing graphic is closer to bloody ‘Blockbusters’, gimme an ‘S’ Bob!
You got to meet one of your heroes Howard Jones recently, how was that?
Ah that was brilliant. It was part of the event to celebrate the box sets of ‘Human’s Lib’ and ‘Dream Into Action’ hosted in Metropolis Studios. I had just landed after a flight from Seattle and was silly jet lagged. The Q&A session with the production team of Stephen W Tayler and Rupert Hine was fascinating.
I got to ask as geeky a question as I wished – basically asking them about their respective approaches to their role when trying to preserve the feel of a demo. Too often that’s lost in the process, perhaps less so these days due to digital audio workstations.
As you would expect, Howard’s live set on Freddie Mercury’s piano was great – especially his impressions. The less well-known side of Howard is his sense of humour – he does a great Welsh accent. I got to meet with him and chat a little. He signed my Live Aid program (yes I was there) and chatted about synths.
You have this mission where you get the great and the good to sign your Arturia MiniBrute, who realistically would you like to add their scrawl on it?
I have an Arturia MiniBrute SE which has the wood sides and metallic control panel. What happened was I had a chance to meet Vince Clarke before an ERASURE gig in Dublin so figured ‘why not?’ and brought it along.
It has been signed by Vince, the OMD lads, Gary Numan and now Howard Jones. It’s always a talking point with the artists and we get to connect a little over music which is nice. Paul Humphreys from OMD wanted to go have a chat about the other Arturia synths. A travel issue meant I couldn’t bring it to my meet with Thomas Dolby so maybe next time.
If there’s someone I’d very much like to get to sign it, I think it would have to be Daniel Miller.
I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim though and I’ll probably be escorted out soon as I try to show him my Mute logo tattoo *laughs*
Oh and John Foxx… and Martyn Ware… and Eric Radcliffe…
Where would you ultimately like to take CIRCUIT3?
I want to keep getting better at songwriting and making music that people want to listen to. With the new album ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, I feel I’m doing that. I’m keeping the flame alive for those sounds and hopefully developing my songwriting along the way. The other album which I’ve been working on at the same time has some songs I’m very proud of and I can feel the development in my writing and production.
One of my dreams would be to tour either as support to another act or to do some shows around UK and Europe on my own or as part of a package tour similar to the ‘Ohm From Ohm’ tour. To be at that level where people are listening to and willing to pay to see you perform live is to me one of the dreams. Maybe the opportunity to work with one of my heroes? Yeah I’d be pleased with that. For now though… I have this new album to mix.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Peter Fitzpatrick
‘For Your Own Good’ is available as a CD single or download from https://circuit3.bandcamp.com/, along with other releases in the CIRCUIT3 back catalogue
CIRCUIT3 plays Synth Wave Live 3 at Electrowerkz in London on Saturday 22nd June 2019, the line-up also includes B-MOVIE, JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM, EUGENE, LUCKYANDLOVE, CENTRE EXCUSE, YS ATLOV, LOW SEA, SOL FLARE + THE DEPARTMENT – tickets available from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/461473