BLACK NAIL CABARET have been steadily climbing the synth ladder since their now famous dark version of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ and the sophomore breakthrough ‘Harry Me Marry Me Bury Me Bite Me’, through the superb ‘Dichromat’ and its follow-up ‘Pseudopop’.
Growing in confidence and really honing onto their style and sleek sound, the Hungarian duo of Emese Illes-Arvai and her husband Kristzian have recently signed to Dependent and are pencilled in to open for the Swedish masters COVENANT.
The band have created their very own visual aesthetic with the Dark Lady Arvai clad in marvellous costumes including head coverings and sporting outlandish make up, but it is the punchy, dark and deep sound that draws audiences in. While ‘Pseudopop’ was BLACK NAIL CABARET’s very own version of dark pop, the new opus brings new depths to the concept of human existence.
The concept is straightforward, as god-like creatures, we are still very much animals and the album circles around the dark side of humanity, which in these challenging times seems to be rather apt. Keeping it simple, the nine track offering goes straight for the heart with the opening ‘Black Lava’, fast and straight to the point, with chasing rhythms inside a very electronic composition. With the filters opening wide, Emese announces the rather catchy ‘Spheres’, which despite of its pop nodding notes, is quite unlike anything else they have ever released.
‘No Gold’ powers through with the innate roughness of raw synth with a dose of nostalgic nods towards the best electronic years over a simple rhythm. With intricate vocal inclusions, BNC goes artful, confusing the listener further, mixing beauty with ugliness, simplicity with complications, leading into the more sedate ‘To Die In Paris’. Sedate, meaning slower, but nevertheless powerful and very quintessential Black Nail, it plays further on vocals and instrumentation.
‘My Casual God’ goes tribal, with simplistic sounds and sombre voice where Emese exclaims “I just want to feel wanted, wanna know that I’m needed” over exquisite arpeggios and disturbingly chilling ending. It’s an anthem of human existence, sung with sadness and longing, where she cries for attention, knowing she will be denied.
‘Make A Run’ changes the feel with a drum ‘n’ bass texture and some quirky rhythms, pioneering into an unknown territories for Emese and co, ushering the era of novelty and experimentation with a dose of revolutionary independence. In contrast, ‘Maelstrom’ emerges as the most easy listening track on ‘Gods Verging On Sanity’, with a simple melody and synthwavey care free qualities, dreaming away into the unknown.
‘Private Religion’ proves that the better tracks are placed towards the end of the production; heavy on bass and plentiful on urgency, wonderfully synthesised and meticulously put together, establishing new levels of greatness, this is what the listener grows to expect from the Hungarian duo.
The closing ‘Children At Play’ mixes elements of vintage synth tunes, the geniality of Björk and quirkiness of Grace Jones. Packed with vocal wizardry and captivating soundscapes, BLACK NAIL CABARET raise the bar once more.
‘Gods Verging On Sanity’ is difficult to define as a whole, while ‘Dichromat’ and ‘Pseudopop’ were both very definitive, this long player is a mixed bag of mixed sounds. There are multiple sparks of greatness, along with pieces that to some may sound too arty, with the possibility of losing the listener along the way.
But as the band profess: “How far have we come and where do we go from here? How do we shed the old skin now that the new one is growing underneath?”
COVENANT, known and loved for their expansive back catalogue of boot stomping hard synth, sometimes accessorised with an orchestra, have gone and done something completely out of character.
Showing a rather softer approach, and proving their eclectic tastes, the Swedish electronica masters are back with a series of EPs entitled ‘Fieldworks’.
“All songs are based on field recordings of great and small sounds from tours across six continents, mixed with the everyday noise of living”,
And while Eskil Simonsson and co aren’t the first or the last to utilise sampling of the surrounding world, “COVENANT uses field recordings as a medium and vessel to challenge our perception of media, manipulation, and hidden agendas”.
The theme of the first five song EP is spirituality and modern beliefs on the backdrop of uncertain times we live in. “Exkursion” number one is ‘Pantheon’ written by Joakim Montelius and it’s represented by a minimal, gentile, almost floating rhythm of a prayer. Not too unlike music for relaxation, this delicate piece envelops with hope and tranquility achieved by visiting The Pantheon.
Voices, announcements and background noise bring the listener back to reality, leading into a track inspired by quotes from Karl Marx and the English poet Percy Shelley, ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’. This time the lyrics by Montelius meet the music of Simonsson. A more familiar sound to the hardcore COVENANT fans, with additional similarities to APOPTYGMA BERZERK and VNV NATION, this one is tribal in its feel.
Grabyourface, a French electro-industrial newcomer joins forces with the mighty Swedes on ‘False Gods’. This time the output is purely designed to anger in the style of THE PRODIGY; it’s urgent, pungent and straight to the point, mocking the choice of worship some engage in.
In tribute to the late Florian Fricke’s musical vehicle of the same name, ‘Popol Vuh’ is the Guatemalan “story of creation” recited to the music of Daniel Johansson, with the last excursion ending on another traditional text, ‘Das Nibelungenlied (Erstes Abenteuer)’. This time Andreas Catjar pens the music, which weaves itself like a serpent within the medieval German epic written in Middle High German.
“Uns ist in alten mæren wunders vil geseit
von helden lobebæren, von grôzer arebeit,
von freuden, hôchgezîten, von weinen und von klagen,
von küener recken strîten muget ír nu wunder hœren sagen”
Inspiring? Oh yes, and so very different from the vast body of work to date from COVENANT. “What do we believe in? What is going on that we cannot hear but feel every day? Rediscover the world through its sounds (and silence), and rise to the challenge of our times”. This time the Swedish synth pioneers try transcending into the future and the past, often seamlessly, but always bearing the present in mind, and the effect? Deep and meaningful…
Montréal’s RATIONAL YOUTH were founded in 1980 by synth enthusiasts Tracy Howe and Bill Vorn.
Along with PSYCHE and MEN WITHOUT HATS, they were among the trailblazers for electronic pop in Canada, a country that has more recently produced acclaimed acts such as GRIMES, PURITY RING, AUSTRA, TR/ST, ELECTRIC YOUTH, PARRALELS, MECHA MAIKO and LOLA DUTRONIC.
Later joined by Kevin Komoda, RATIONAL YOUTH quickly made an impression and supported OMD at Auditorium Le Plateau in March 1982. Shortly after, the trio released ‘Cold War Night Life’, one of the first ever Canadian synthpop albums. It was later to became a cult favourite in Sweden where its influence was readily felt in their domestic electronic scene. Indeed, a 1997 RATIONAL YOUTH reunion concert with Howe and Vorn took place in Lund, Sweden.
Today, Tracy Howe remains the main man of RATIONAL YOUTH with his wife Gaenor ably augmenting the line-up for recordings and live shows.
Featuring ‘Here It Comes Again’, an EP of new material ‘Future Past Tense’ was released in 2016 and showcased ‘This Side Of The Border’, a burst of futuristic sci-fi electronica with a typically gloomy lyric from Howe that captured the tensions of the world’s current socio-political climate. It’s as if the fall of the Berlin Wall never happened and for that reason alone, RATIONAL YOUTH’s observational ethos is poignantly relevant again.
Meanwhile this year, RATIONAL YOUTH recorded a charming cover of ‘Flash In The Night’ for the ‘Night City Tribute’ album to the popular Swedish new wave pop band SECRET SERVICE, the 1982 original of which was a No5 in France.
RATIONAL YOUTH will be playing live in London for the first time at Non Stop Electronic Cabaret on Saturday 29th September 2018. Presented by Cold War Night Life, the triple header will also feature PSYCHE and Swedish poptronica veterans PAGE.
Tracy Howe kindly chatted to The Electricity Club following completion of this summer’s ‘Canadian Synth Legends Tour’ with PSYCHE…
‘Cold War Night Life’ is considered a landmark in Canadian independent music and now a number of the song’s themes have become relevant again?
Well they seem prophetic now because we seem to be at a similar point in history.
In 1982, it wasn’t just the Cold War, it was the Cold War being fought by Reagan, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko. The doomsday clock was pretty close to midnight. It felt very much like it does now, you know, a sense of impending doom.
Now we seem to have some sort of coordinated US-Russia global push toward authoritarianism and nativism, and rule by oligarchs, and the whole post-World War Two international consensus is being blown to bits. It feels like we are on shaky ground. The ‘Cold War Night Life’ album was about trying to enjoy life under trying circumstances.
What bands most influenced the sound of RATIONAL YOUTH?
Obviously KRAFTWERK, because when we started there weren’t really many other models yet for an all synthesizer band; and also the early HUMAN LEAGUE, and post-punk artists like ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE. We also liked KLAUS SCHULZE and TANGERINE DREAM, and projects like CLUSTER & ENO. Bill Vorn and I started the band because we both liked this music, and had synthesizers, and the idea was to combine some of the cool minimalism of KRAFTWERK with more specifically song-oriented composition and vocals.
What particular synthesizers were you using for the ‘Cold War Night Life’ album and how did you find them to use?
It’s quite a list. We had three Roland System 100s, and a Roland System 700. These were modular synths that were controlled by a Roland MC4 Micro-Composer, which was a digital sequencer that could output CV and gate to four monophonic synths.
So most of the sequenced stuff went through all that. We also had Roland and Korg analog sequencers that could be synched to that stuff too, and then we had a Roland CR78 first and then a TR-808 drum machine.
We also had a Roland SH5, Moog Source, a Pro-One, a Logan String Melody II and a Roland SVC350 vocoder. The sequencing with the MC4 was much more labour intensive and tedious than it is today with Logic or something, you basically entered the notes in one at a time with several steps involved in formatting that one note. On the other hand it was pre-MIDI so the clocks on those machines were fast and tight, really punchy.
As a one-time drummer, you must have found the Roland TR808 something of a revelation?
Well, I believe we bought one of the first ones to come into Canada. The programmability was mind-blowing, so intuitive, and it had a fair amount of storage. The CR78 had four memory presets and the rest was organ lounge accompaniment, so right away the 808 was liberating. The other thing was the sound, which we all know. I remembered how inspired we were when we got that thing. We plugged it in the first time and it blew our faces off it was so nasty. As time went on, we used Linns and so on, but now I keep coming back to 808 sounds. It kind of defined our sound in a lot of ways really.
Can you remember much about opening for OMD at Montréal’s Auditorium Le Plateau in 1982?
Yes, I remember being really nervous! It was a fairly large concert hall, a thousand seats or so, and this was going to be only our second-ever gig. I remember showing up while OMD’s sound check was going on and before that I thought you know “‘Enola Gay’, ‘Electricity’, it’s not THAT different from us”, but they had a live drummer and they were sound checking his kick drum and floor tom through this massive PA and it sounded like the hammer of Thor, and I thought “hello, we’re going to sound ridiculous next to this!”.
As it turned out, it went over really well and people seemed to react to us in a way that indicated that they’d never seen or heard anything quite like it, and we got mentioned in the daily press reviews of the concert positively, so it was really a thrill for us.
‘Holiday In Bangkok’ is considered by many to be one of RATIONAL YOUTH’s signature tunes but comes a few different versions, which one is the definitive one for you?
Arguably the first one from 1983, because it’s got a harder edge than the 1985 one. They’re essentially the same tracks, just mixed differently. I like the live version too.
The RATIONAL YOUTH back catalogue is rather awkwardly spread out over a number of labels, have you any thoughts on how the music industry has changed over the last 15 years in particular?
I honestly can’t moan about how things are now, because we were actively (and idealistically) promoting the sort of deconstruction of the record industry that we see the result of now from the moment we started.
The way we recorded was a precursor to the in-the-box home recording that has democratised everything to do with the way records are made now. We would come into a recording studio with half of the stuff already programmed, set up the gear, tell the guy to press record and hey presto, there’s half of the record recorded. They’d never seen that in Montreal before. It was already commonplace in London of course. And today, I’m very happy to be able to make a really decent record at home, and get somebody good to master it (and that process has changed too).
As for how it gets distributed, I suppose I am not thrilled about streaming, simply because of the miniscule remuneration artists get, but then I never made anything off records under the old model anyway, so what has changed? You know THE BEATLES’ royalty rate for their first Parlophone record was a PENNY (1d) a side.
A nice thing about the way things are now is it seems as though the vinyl revival is for real. So the reward for me is being able to make real records, they may not sell lots, but we can keep doing it, and to me a vinyl record is a real artefact, like when a painter does a lithograph and prints a certain number of copies. You feel more like you created something tangible than an audio file on the cloud somewhere.
Why have you recently decided not to play the US for the foreseeable future?
We live in Canada, only 45 minutes from the US border. I actually knew Canadians who died fighting for the US-led coalition in Afghanistan. We spent a lot of blood and treasure over the last century being good little allies to them. Now this Trump regime is attacking us in trade disputes because they have decided we are a security threat to the US, and accordingly their Department of Homeland Security is going hardcore on the border (not the one with Mexico, the one with us) and have been harassing Canadians trying to cross.
This has gotten worse since Canada legalised marijuana, and they have been banning Canadians for life if they say the wrong thing. But more than that, we just see them veering very close to all-out authoritarianism, and this is not just a sneaky coup, they are doing this daily, and it’s all out in the open.
The model appears to be something like Russia, where you have elections but you know, it’s an authoritarian regime in thrall to oligarchs. It seems obvious to me. Certainly there is some resistance, but apparently 40% of Americans are 100% per cent behind this racist, theocratic regime that above all else seems to be hell-bent on destroying the environment of this planet with their systematic dismantling of any standards they did have. 40% is a higher level of electoral support than Adolf Hitler had when he became chancellor of Germany in a hung parliament. Remember when we used to always wonder how the Germans let Hitler come to power? Well, now we know.
So I could say it’s like in the days of Apartheid South Africa and that “I ain’t going to play in Sun City”, or just say that, except for a few places on the two coasts where it might be nice to play, we can just as easily not go there, and go somewhere nicer.
‘This Side Of The Border’ from 2016 seems to have prophetically summed up this situation?
Yes, because we like to think that in Canada, we try to have an inclusive society which is more egalitarian, with a greater sense of collective responsibility, than on the other side of the border. And I’ll admit that we Canadians are second to none in the holier than thou department, but we have our own Boris Johnsons and Donald Trumps too, although they don’t hold sway yet. That’s why the song says “Maybe here on this side of the border, there is still a chance that things can change”.
‘Future Past Tense’ was the first longer form collection of all-new RATIONAL YOUTH material for many years, was it a cathartic experience to channel some of that midlife angst?
Oh yes, unquestionably. It really was very much that. And getting back to your very first question, it just feels right to be doing this now, whereas for many years it didn’t make any sense to me to do it.
Thank God people who always liked us stayed with us and were there to welcome us back.
Has the album as a vehicle had its day, are EPs and singles the way to go?
I’m not sure about that. I think in mainstream pop music albums are much less important now, especially since so much of it is consumed online, but for our sort of music I think all three formats have a place.
For me, if it’s an LP or an EP, it’s got to have a fully formed identity. Our last record was an EP, and we deliberately wanted it to be, so that it could be a 10 inch. We just really wanted a 10 inch record, so the form was important conceptually. The next one will most likely be a full-length LP, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do another EP. I’ve always loved EPs though. I have all these vintage EPs by THE SHADOWS, THE BEATLES and CILLA BLACK which are 7 inch 45s with four tracks on them.
RATIONAL YOUTH remain popular in Scandinavia, why do you think your music has an enduring appeal in that region?
Well that’s an easier question than how they latched onto us in the first place. I think the Swedes have a natural affinity for synth music, and pop music, and thus, synthpop. And for whatever reason, the generation who were in their teenage years in the 1980s have passed it on to their children. And the older ones are incredibly loyal, and if they loved you then they love you forever. And perhaps they relate to it because bands like COVENANT have always said nice things about us being an influence and that contributes to it. It’s really a second home for us.
What did you think of the ‘Heresy: A Tribute To RATIONAL YOUTH’ collection’ put together by the Cold War Night Light website which you also contributed to?
It was absolutely a treasure and such an honour, the sort of thing you would never imagine would happen.
And there were so many great versions of our songs, some of them were better than our version to be honest!
Just a lovely package too. We are not worthy.
How do you feel about playing in London for the first time alongside PSYCHE and PAGE this September?
I’ve dreamt of playing in the UK since I was a kid. I used to sit in school at the back of the class making up imaginary tours, where I’d be in a band playing such venues as De Montfort Hall in Leicester, The Cambridge Corn Exchange and Leeds Polytechnic *laughs*
Alas, RATIONAL YOUTH never made much of dent in the British market, but I’m absolutely thrilled that we’re finally coming, even for one show. I once told Robert Marlow that I was determined to sing in London one day, even if I had to bellow ‘My Yiddishe Mama’ out on the pavement in the Old Kent Road, so we’re really looking forward to this.
Of course, it’s always great to hook up with our pals from PSYCHE, and it will be great to see Eddie Bengtsson again. We’ve played with SISTA MANNEN PÅ JORDEN several times, but never with PAGE, so that will be a treat as well.
For those discovering you for the first time, what three songs you would suggest people check out to get a feel for what RATIONAL YOUTH are about and why?
I’d say ‘Coboloid Race’, which is from our first single in 1981 and shows that we sort of prophesied industrial synth music back then; ‘Saturdays In Silesia’ from ‘Cold War Night Life’ because it shows our pure synthpop side; and ‘This Side Of The Border’ from ‘Future Past Tense’ because it shows what we sound like now and how that stacks up against our older material.
What’s next for RATIONAL YOUTH?
We’re working on a new album, and it’s about half done. Then we have a very high resolution, multi-camera video of a show we did in Germany and we’re going to figure out some way of releasing it. A few years ago one would have thought a DVD but they probably don’t sell at all anymore, so maybe we’ll put it on iTunes or something. Then in the new year, we have a number of live things coming up.
We’re going to Mexico in March and there’s talk of expanding it to Peru and Colombia. Then we have some exciting things in Europe to come. Who knows, maybe somebody will want us to come back to the UK.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Tracy Howe
Special thanks to Simon Helm at Cold War Night Life
If you’re looking at all things Italian, why not combine delicious food, beautiful cities, stunning countryside, friendly locals with some eloquent electronica from the heart of the quaint city of Parma.
KIRLIAN CAMERA have been active in the dark synth genre since 1979, when Angelo Bergamini set off to create a project, which has lasted decades and gained fans with every release.
With very promising beginnings as the first ever Italian band signed to Virgin Records, the group went from strength to strength, but with the rightful addition of Elena Alice Fossi, the success has been complete.
With the recent opus ‘Hologram Moon’, a No1 in the German Alternative Charts, Bergamini and Fossi have really proven that KIRLIAN CAMERA still have it very much in them. Angelo Bergamini and Elena Alice Fossi chatted about their latest musical adventure with The Electricity Club.
Parma, a beautiful town that seems almost too quaint to produce such talent. What was the music scene like over there post-punk?
Angelo Bergamini: Well, I don’t remember so much about such a period, thanks to a memory blackout I did get in 2002. But I can recall something hazy about a very productive situation. I remember bands such as PALE TV, T.A.C, EAST WALL, RAW POWER, KOTO, BLITZ and so on, all more or less linkable to the city in question… Anyway, Parma didn’t offer that much to one who actually wanted to become a skilled alternative musician.
How can I say… I think the city is really beautiful, but my heart was and is elsewhere. I feel more “connection” to Germany, Tuscany and… Florida, for example. I’m not able to speak German (just a few words!) but always I appreciated their country and their culture, then Elena increased such a sensation, as she really loves those places and German people.
Being the first Italian act to be signed to Virgin Records must have been a big deal… what happened?
Angelo Bergamini: It was strange. One day before I was told that at Virgin they would like to offer me an agreement… it was impossible to even daydream about it, for any group, at the time!!! Impossible dreams, you know. Then… the day after, one of my collaborators came out with such news. My reaction was even weirder: I didn’t react. I was cold. Cold as an ice cube. Don’t know the reason why. Strange life, indeed…
You’ve changed labels on many occasions with your latest release outed on Dependent…
Angelo Bergamini: Yes, we feel like we are gypsies, AH AH AH!!! Some labels we worked with in the past, such as Out Of Line, Trisol and Virgin Records, offered us a kind of artistic freedom and some promotion, so I couldn’t tell anything so negative about them, but… well, now Elena has signed to SPKR, a Los Angeles-based entity managing Dependent and, once again, we’re just trying to do the best we can, offering our deepest soul to the audience. Then, who knows?
Keeping up this agreement with Dependent might turn out to be a good decision, you know. Sometimes, working with us is not that simple, as we perfectly know all of the possible mechanisms market and mafia offer, so… sometimes a label manager might feel “too observed”, kind of not at ease, you understand? They don’t realize we couldn’t give a damn about their manoeuvres and rackets. Simply, we are not dumb, come on! Really we are not. Label managers are often looking for idiots… and so many bands are there to offer such a precious quality…
Angelo, you had a very successful project of your own with HIPNOSIS, what made you drop that? The ‘Hologram Moon’ idea is of a conspiracy…
Angelo Bergamini: HIPNOSIS was a cover band, in its very early life, so in a way I had been feeling strangled, I suppose. Then, all in all, I perceived KIRLIAN CAMERA was kinda my life. HIPNOSIS got platinum discs and many awards, but I wanted KC to become even bigger, somehow or other.
Elena Alice Fossi: The idea behind ‘Hologram Moon’ turns out to be a metaphor, as I actually couldn’t realize whether the Moon is a hologram, an abandoned planet, an abandoned spacelab, or it’s simply a small planet looking like a bizarrely perfect sphere…
The curious thing is that many people out there “know” what it is. In fact, some say it’s a hologram, some say it is not, some are losing their mind desperately trying to prove that satellite is real and they even quote scientists becoming embarrassingly purple in the attempt to discredit other people. I’m talking about “persons” who know absolutely nothing and never will know anything at all. I know nothing, but I’m looking for truth. Simple.
In the meantime, OASIS’ Noel Gallagher is coming out with an album titled ‘Who Built The Moon?’, more or less regarding the same theme and… the question, as we notice, is just interesting an increasing number of people. We’ll be soon asking Noel whether he has got any news in regard to such a matter…
So on the new album, Eskil Simonsson visits to help out too!
Elena Alice Fossi: Collaborating with Eskil is not a casual fact, as well as he is not casual. He is not a casual being. I actually feel that giving life to the songs we worked on together was coming out from a combination of natural factors. We are so delighted with this result.
We first met in Magdeburg on the occasion of a charity festival in 2014, as I decided to perform there with some friends; Angelo suggested me to invite a guest, giving me the name of Eskil. It was just a perfect idea, as I think KIRLIAN CAMERA and COVENANT both belong to a cold romantic / dramatic electro world. I feel there is some kind of sense of loss often crossing the music lines of both projects.
Yes, that’s pop and I do not want to dignify mainstream at all costs, but… the point is that – whether we want it or not – our electro pop music is not regular mainstream, you know. It may turn out to be a boom or a boomerang… but we could not care less about that, as we love it , so won’t stop dreaming through those melodic humanoids we are creating. Creating ourselves. Recreating ourselves on new birth days, along with different parents and friends…
You never felt really aligned with a dark synth genre, you just like doing your own thing?
Angelo Bergamini: Our music is made of several layers, various echoes, shreds of movie soundtracks and it’s often crossed with different mood. Depends on when it’s been composed. Not seldom does it evoke dramatic visions, but couldn’t disdain humourous inputs and alien needs!
While working on a new KIRLIAN CAMERA album, we happen to create a single for the African rising star FAKEBA, a very determined singer, then we happen to listen to THE ELECTRIC PRUNES or THIRD EAR BAND and go back to Ligeti or the Strauss’ waltzes. Out of the blue, we might happen to make a dance track, just for fun… as even fun is important, in music!
We recently have been asked to sell our sounds to a sampling company, for example and it may happen we find ourselves working on a laughing gnome who has to kill a dragon!!!
You will easily understand that one genre in particular couldn’t be our fixed cup of tea, then we like to bring our musical ideas into several areas.
No, we definitely are not so linkable to an exact scene, although Elena in particular feels special love for electronic music, so our last performances are giving massive room to synthetic sounds and I think such trend will be even increased and developed.
We must follow our own visions, regardless of what is the “right thing”, as we suppose the right thing comes out when you couldn’t give a damn about mere nostalgia and assembly line standard music. Listeners are increasingly looking for straight atmospheric works, they want “that” exact product without any complications and so creativity ain’t that necessary, as no real variation will be admitted! Today’s listeners are making me nostalgic of the progressive era!!!
Are the side projects now retired?
Elena Alice Fossi: We are now on the STALINGRAD VALKYRIE project, once called STALINGRAD, kind of martial music sometimes being crossed with some “distant humour”. Angelo is daydreaming about a new SPECTRA PARIS chapter, as he is the glamour entity here, but I think such an idea will turn into a strange collection being filled with unreleased material. KIRLIAN CAMERA is anyway requiring relatively long lead times, due to particular love involved!
Elena, you’re doing famously well with SPECTRA PARIS…
Elena Alice Fossi: Thank you, Monika! SPECTRA PARIS gives me a lot of satisfaction, whether it becomes something bigger than now, or it remains trapped into a dark pop limbo being reserved for the few! This is because every time I get into the “Spectra-spaceship”, then I have a sensation I am growing up a bit. Maybe it happens because I let a good amount of time pass between one album and another, so whenever I approach a new work, my mind no longer is in the same place it was at the time of the previous album.
This doesn’t mean I deny the older solutions, although I admit I notice a kind of naivety in my old treatments. And yet, such a mechanism generates a kind of space-time map of my life and each album, like a magnetic point, tries to tell me who I was, who I am and where I’m going. However, ‘Retromachine Betty’, the latest album I released, gave me a safer journey, where I feel good in a most synthetic and electronic side which always belonged to me, but I never had managed to express with such naturalness before.
I don’t know the reason why – strange magic or pure nonsense – the sounds of machines have always moved me, so, in this album that has been recently by Dependent Records, I wanted to introduce my own computer-creature, giving it a name, a sensitivity, an identity, even a sexual one. I wanted it to be born in the beginning of the ‘80s and to visit future places and ages, like a time machine, through an evolutionary system that goes beyond our days.
Both of you have worked with the legendary John Fryer… Angelo, your collaboration dates back a while…
Angelo Bergamini: Yes, we met in London at Blackwing Studios, January 1988, kinda sanctuary as far as Mute and 4AD were concerned. Everything was so filled with enthusiasm and on that occasion, I had a chance to collaborate with Suzanne Reddington-Gardner a very talented singer, as our vocalist was… lost somewhere!
John’s co-production succeeded in giving us some more spotlight, even if our label at the time managed to mess everything up. Let’s say some press focused on us a little more, after paying dues for eight years, surrounded by some hostile silence, in Italy. So, we definitely set route to another area, after some confused stories with Virgin and EMI.
John Fryer was particularly popular, those exact days, as his single as M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up The Volume’ was about to become a massive hit. He wasn’t one of those guys who are obsessed with a particular genre. That’s the best starting point, when one goes to work with KIRLIAN CAMERA, especially nowadays.
And Elena, you lent your vocal wizardry on John’s own project BLACK NEEDLE NOISE…
Elena Alice Fossi: It was a nice moment of fun for me, as well as a real pleasure! Experiences like those can only enrich, both as a musician and humanly, because they leave an indelible mark inside. And I must admit that I feel proud to take part in such a big party, in fact I couldn’t help noticing how each singer perfectly fits in her/his own role, thanks to John’s skilful orchestration
How difficult is it to sell music now, comparing to back then?
Angelo Bergamini: I must say it’s always been an uneasy deal, when one doesn’t go to agree with certain tyranny created by some ludicrous label managers. Then, working along with women in a band turns things even more complicated! I mean… when you’re working with and for a beautiful woman. Explaining what I mean would be nothing but stupid. Everybody knows everything, although many would like to prove times are changing. So, given I like challenges, I love to work with beautiful and talented women, kind of love for suicide!!!
Joking aside, you know that today music has become a sort of background to distract listeners. So, given that I love challenges (part 2), I love making pop music to be possibly listened to with attention!!! So when you decide you wanna sell your music you’re just going to hit the jackpot, especially when you come from some real low-life. Selling – real – music in the 80s was less complicated, thanks to the New Wave support and a relatively new adventure into the underground maze.
I must add that label managers and operators in general are grumbling about poor sales since… time immemorial! So, I don’t know whether anything actually changed. OK, now you sell less physical material but you can sell yourself, your identity, your social one.
One will value whether that’s good or not, then… and as for Kirlians, once again… you know we love challenges (part 3)!!!
Having gained cult status, do you expect your releases to be an instant success?
Elena Alice Fossi: We never expect anything particular, even though we always have natural high hopes once we start again working on a new chapter! Many people like to say “better the devil we know”, but I don’t seldom accept facing new adventures, even when some clouds are peeping over the horizon. Now, this moment looks notably crowded with good sensations and we so often have a chance to perceive some real good feeling coming out of the audience’s hat!
We are veterans without nostalgia; we never give up, always feeling glad to be on stage, even when performing mini clubs in front of, say, 200 fans! Well, 2000 are similarly welcome, you know… we always try turning listeners’ enthusiasm on, till reaching together a magical place, so far from any standard and lifeless performance! A party aboard a spaceship surrounded by millions stars might give you the gist.
Angelo Bergamini: Elena is a real force of nature on stage! Difficult to see anything like that, today in particular, as she’s completely involved in a trance, a trance that rules out mummy-like fixedness, though! She intensely lives a sort of personal drama, up there. She smiles, cries, laughs, gets serious, runs, gets down on the floor. Some teardrops probably appeared in her eyes, during a concert when playing ‘Sky Collapse’ and the tears she was perhaps holding back choked her throat, and I must say that Elena is not a whiner at all!
Intensity is the word, during Elena’s performances, so I’m sure she’s able to spread such sensations, doing that by means of the most genuine, honest and potent language. KC need it! That’s what we like to call success!
Then, if God or whoever wants us to take the place of Rihanna by playing our music instead of bare mainstream pop, well… we’re ready!!!
How’s Italy treating electronic music these days? Apart from a handful of bands hailing from the Tricolore, the synth scene seems to be rather shy there?
Elena Alice Fossi: Italy… Italy! You can come to Italy to eat, enjoy the morning sun at the end of May, admire the sea that bathes that picturesque boot, but please, if you want to listen to good music, run away as far as you can!
Move your ass away, hurry up and don’t look back! Just like KIRLIAN CAMERA did! Beloved Germany welcomed us, adopted us… but also a lot of other countries have been able to show actual sympathy for this musical genre.
Even in Senegal, when we performed our music to open the way to European electronica for the first time in the West Africa history, doing that for two years in a row, we could see an interest and a warmth for that synth pop essence that maybe was new to them, it being sometimes dark, dreamy, sometimes danceable, so different from their great rhythms… yet they have listened, danced, understood, in spite of the fact they never attended any concert like that before. But Italy, damn… have I already told you that there are some beautiful sunsets?
Are you likely to play live in the UK to promote ‘Hologram Moon’?
Elena Alice Fossi: Live shows are my natural element; it’s kind of absolutely vital point, where I feel in my actual home. Oh yes, how much I love performing on stage! And, as for UK goes, we notice an increasing interest, for the first time, something special, I mean, so, I know some ideas concerning touring your country are taking shape, little by little. It’s a question of selecting requests and considering some new ones, then we’ll come there with pleasure. Electropop and electronica are living quite a good moment, in GB too, so… hopefully, it’ll be happening soon!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to KIRLIAN CAMERA
The quaint Italian city of Parma is possibly best known for three things: ham, cheese and KIRLIAN CAMERA.
The latter, of the inedible kind, unless one salivates upon the deliciousness of Elena Alice Fossi, has been a celebrated dark electronica pursuit since late 1979. Angelo Bergamini is the man responsible for the rise of the project, which took many line-up changes to become the enormous success that it is now, almost 40 years after.
The beginnings of KIRLIAN CAMERA were promising from the onset, with the band being the first Italian act signed to Virgin Records, and rubbing shoulders with such legends as John Fryer, known for working with COCTEAU TWINS, DEPECHE MODE and NINE INCH NAILS.
With the instability of vocalists, the real change occurred when the multi-talented, Susanna Rigacci’s protégé, Elena Alice Fossi came on board.
The group’s sound progressed to one of much darker undertones, while Fossi and Bergamini enjoyed their side projects, STALINGRAD (with the pair indulging with monumental size musicality), as well as Fossi’s own ALICE NEVE FOX, SPECTRA PARIS and SIDERARTICA.
‘Hologram Moon’ is the latest offering from the pair, proving that KIRLIAN CAMERA isn’t ready to retire yet. Indeed ‘Hologram’ sees Fossi’s clear voice lead into a world of spectacular sound and unparalleled musical know how.
Joined by Sweden’s own Eskil Simonsson on the very vintage COVENANT sounding ‘Sky Collapse’ and quirky ‘Polar-IHS’, the multifaceted Elena showcases her vocal ingenuity, intertwined with a magnificent marriage of synth and strings.
‘Lost Islands’ is deliciously loaded with bass heavy synthesis, romantically meandering in the foreign worlds, to reach The Moon, the ‘Hologram Moon’.
The haunting instrumental ‘Helium 3’ introduces ‘Kryostar’, a sci-fi inspired piece of mantric electronic disco, while ‘I Don’t Sing’ presents a male vocal option over super poignant lyrics. ‘The Storm’ smoothes the atmosphere, but we are far from comfort, what’s hidden out there? The ‘Eyes Of The Moon’, they see the truth in the hypnotic rhythm, with arpeggiated “spreading of wings” and bubbling electricity.
Is it the darkness of the ‘Haunted River’ that’s drawing into its synthy depths, delving into the plethora of ubiquitous sounds, all very gothic influenced and rather black? Or is it the simplistic piano of the closing ‘Traveller’s Testament’, bearing the faint signs of hope nearly whispered by Fossi?
We are all travellers of the world, searching for answers. Is the Moon a mere hologram? Are we fed untruths and if so, who is benefiting from the lies?
Will we ever learn, who can tell?
Perhaps KIRLIAN CAMERA don’t have all the answers… what they have however, is a superb album to shake the beliefs, electronic style.
Earthly or not, ‘Hologram Moon’ proves the Italians have cooked it up fresh, juicy and ready for consumption, so go ahead… inhale the atmosphere and revel in the deliciousness of Bergamini and Fossi.
‘Hologram Moon’ is released by Dependent Records in CD, deluxe 2CD and double vinyl LP formats