Tag: Creep Show (Page 1 of 2)

STEPHEN MALLINDER Interview

In a career that started in 1978 with the first releases by CABARET VOLTAIRE, Stephen Mallinder has worn many hats with other outfits such as ACID HORSE, SASSI & LOCO, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW featuring John Grant.

Widely acknowledged as an experimental electronic music pioneer, despite fronting CABARET VOLTAIRE through their imperial phase and a number of iconic tracks such as ‘Nag Nag Nag’, ‘Yashar’, ‘Sensoria’ and ‘Just Fascination’, his releases as a solo artist have been scarce.

Indeed, Stephen Mallinder’s surrealist second album ‘Um Dada’ was only released in 2019.

But it rekindled interest in his first solo record ‘Pow Wow’ from 1982. Ice Machine, a new sub-label of the Canadian electro imprint Suction Records is reissuing an expanded deluxe edition of that debut.

This new version of ‘Pow Wow’ now includes the trippy dub excursion of ‘Temperature Drop’ and the more motorik ‘Cool Down’ from the 12 inch single that came out on Fetish Records in 1981 prior to the album, as well as a recreation of the original iconic Neville Brody designed artwork, painstakingly recreated using scans of the original.

Reflecting on more than four decades in the music business, Stephen Mallinder spoke to The Electricity Club about his solo work, his CABARET VOLTAIRE years and much more.

‘Pow Wow’ was recorded simultaneously as doing CABARET VOLTAIRE, what was motivating you do work on solo material. Had it been intended that maybe some of these tracks would morph into Cabs tracks?

I tend to be quite reactive, and I like a challenge, so it was driven initially by being asked to do a release with Fetish rather than a burning desire to have a solo career.

We were really busy with lots of Cabs things but I was running around doing other stuff, and had friends all over.

There was a direct connection with Rod who set up Fetish, and Neville (Brody) who was a good friend, as were 23 SKIDOO, who came up to Western Works to record ‘Last Words’.

Fetish had become synonymous with Neville, the label’s identity was in part shaped by his designs and detailed ‘look’. So there was collective component, people who I was associated with it so it seemed natural that I’d be happy to record for them.

Musically it was a chance to do things on my own, it was an experiment to play everything myself. We had a studio, Western Works, I had the opportunity and so used the downtime during the night to try things out. They were never intended to be embryonic Cabs tracks because we had a different way of working. We were very collaborative and the tracks were made with us all together – it was never a case of individuals writing a piece and the others adding their names – we worked as a group from initiation to completion.

What would have been your equipment set up at this time at Western Works? 

It was still centred on tape recording as the key process. Although we had synths and a sequencer, these were still cobbled together, with bits of homemade gear and cheap instruments; it still had a futuristic junk shop vibe.

We had built up to using 8 track but didn’t move to 16 track until later when Richard and I did the Some Bizarre / Virgin deal.

We ended to put what money we had into outboard gear so we built up the rack of effects: compressors, noise gates, reverb, delays and processors. I think the MXR Harmoniser and Lexicon delay/multi effects get used a bit on the album. We also invested in drum machines and pedals. Multitracking, overdubbing and processing were the main means of working.

‘Pow Wow’ had a very rhythmic template and coincided with CABARET VOLTAIRE’s growing interest in the dancefloor?

To be honest it was always there, Richard and myself were old soul boys and were originally friends from the hanging out in record shops and blagging into nightclubs, illegally, when were 14-15 years old. But it’s fair to say that there was a growing interest in what was emerging from clubs, and importantly that through dance music, the 12inch single was becoming more accepted as a format which meant we could mess with that extended medium.

If you then throw in our interest in dub, a nod to the repetition of disco, and looser forms of funk and African music, there was a pattern emerging. We were starting to corral all these different elements before electro had even popped its head up so we were well placed. ‘Pow Wow’ was the early part of this curve – ‘Cool Down’ was done as a 12inch single, prior to, and independently from, the album.

How do you think ‘Pow Wow’ helped you in your future musical endeavours?

I’m not sure, perhaps it demonstrated I was capable of playing all the parts and taking on every role whenever I felt I needed to. It did contrast with the Cabs where there was a happy interaction between everyone and we knew it was a consequence of 2 or 3 individuals combining, complimenting and contrasting with each other to achieve a result. I guess it made me aware of different ways of working creatively.

On ‘The Crackdown’, you were working with a young producer by the name Flood, what did you see in him that would fit into the CABARET VOLTAIRE aesthetic?

Haa, it’s kind of funny because I think Flood refers to those as his dark days so maybe you should ask him what he thought of working with us. I don’t think it was us personally as we had some great times making music with Flood.

He was great for us because until we went to record ‘The Crackdown’ in Trident, where Flood was the in-house engineer, we had never really spent time in a proper outside studio.

Flood was open, inquisitive, up for anything so great for us and we had a good chemistry. And he came back to co-produce ‘Micro-Phonies’ with us – he even came to Western Works to contribute to the recording process before we went to Sarm and mixed that album. I think his subsequent history shows how great he was, I hope he has some good memories of it all.

The ‘Crackdown’ title track is often highlighted, but ‘Just Fascination’ was an excellent if underrated single in its John Luongo remix?

Yes, John was our first foray into the specialist club remix. He was great, very amiable and my lasting memory is him working relentlessly to get the perfect kick drum sound – it took pretty much a whole day. But we should also acknowledge Peter Care’s video for that track, the first vid we did together.

How do you look back now on that Some Bizzare / Virgin Records trilogy of ‘The Crackdown’, ‘Micro-phonies’ and ‘The Covenant, The Sword & The Arm Of The Lord’?

With a sense of satisfaction. It was an interesting, and challenging time. We were trying to mould our sound, and whole approach, to a changing situation – technology, formats, media, audiences were all moving rapidly and we were in the middle of all that. We wanted to move forward but not to lose what we had achieved until then – being on the outside creating noise and disruption – but knowing we should embrace the changes. Those albums capture that tension both for us, and the times.

What opportunities did the move to Australia present that weren’t open to you in the UK at the time?

It was a bit of a shock because I had to survive, bring up my daughters, and continue with my creative work. I didn’t know a single person there. I learnt how to adapt but retain the core of yourself.

Although it felt like starting again, it was an opportunity to try things without feeling the weight of expectation on top of me all the time. I could try whatever I wanted without as much attention so I was able to write, start a record label, set up a production company, promote gigs and festivals, become a radio producer running arts and current affairs, DJ, have radio shows, complete my PhD. I did them all in a relatively short space of time which I think was only possible being away from the UK bubble.

How different was Australia to the UK when you moved there? Especially Western Australia which is in itself even more ‘remote’?

It was quite disconcerting at first as you become very aware of how small and distant you can feel when detached from your past, and that very familiar world.

But I was lucky in that I developed strong connections in Sydney and Melbourne so travelled a lot doing music and the label. I was also very lucky in that the radio show was a way of getting people in. That plus the gigs through the production company, meant every week I had someone from overseas coming in or staying with me.

So one week it might be COLDCUT, the next MR SCRUFF, KRUSH, GRANDMASTER FLASH, JURASSIC 5 or mates like MOLOKO, Jarvis Cocker or whoever passing through. I became like Our Man in Havana in Graham Green’s novel.

Also the Off World Sounds label was run by me and Pete Carroll, brother of Central Station’s Matt and Pat, and Shaun Ryder’s cousin, so barely a month would go by without half of Manchester coming to stay.

Was there any particular reason the ACID HORSE project with MINISTRY only produced one single? Was the plan for it to be an ongoing act in the vein of REVOLTING COCKS?

No it could only be a one off. In fact to this day we’ve never owned up to it really. We were in the studio in Chicago with Marshall Jefferson recording tracks for ‘Groovy, Laidback & Nasty’ and did some moonlighting with Al (Jorgensen) and Chris (Connelly) to do ACID HORSE. EMI had paid for the trip to record with Marshall so would have taken a dim view of us doing a bit on the side, hence we were credited under pseudonyms on the release.

You finally followed-up ‘Pow Wow’ after 37 years with ‘Um Dada’, while you had been recording and releasing albums as part of WRANGLER, what was the impetus to do another solo record after so long?

I just felt like taking control for a bit, and because we’d been so busy with WRANGLER, there was suddenly a bit of time to do it.

There was no particular plan, in fact I can’t really remember how it happened. I think I started making tracks at home because I had a bit of time, it followed from there.

I was never conscious of not making solo stuff until it was pointed out it’d been years since I did something under my actual name. I feel ownership of all music that I’ve worked on from CABARET VOLTAIRE, SASSI & LOCO, WRANGLER etc, there’s but tons of releases so really it was just the name for me. I’ve always preferred hiding behind a branded name, but it was nice to think there could be a direct connection by using my own.

How would ‘Working (As You Are)’ have come together and would it have been something you could have done while doing ‘Pow Wow’?

No, technology changes things, and context too. Each are a result of their own specific time and place. Although the common elements of rhythm and simplicity are consistent. I’m the link and what feathers my duster remains pretty stable.

How have the continual changes in music technology influenced the way you work? How would a young Master Mallinder have reacted to the vast libraries of sounds available at the click of a mouse?

Like everyone it gives choices. I can work from home on my laptop, and I can also choose to go into a studio. I do enjoy that flexibility, and I like that each can have their own approach and sound, or grain. And at this moment working remotely but collaborating is a good thing to be able to do.

I think the bigger changes are in transmission – how we share that music and how we choose to present ourselves. As the tangible content – the product itself – has been transformed, almost lost, so has the exchange value and our relationship to creative work. It’s certainly not all good, but we have to work with it. For every annoyance that Spotify and YouTube have made music seem like a free product, Bandcamp, coupled with social media, have given us the opportunity to quickly upload and sell.

Music, like much creative output, has become a utility. A consumable, available at the end of a click.

How did you find the reception for ‘A Situation’, your third album with WRANGLER? Did you enjoy working in Benge’s new Cornwall studio complex and seeing what he had brought into that already vast synth armoury?

Well we’ve been working all along in the Cornwall space – we did the previous album ‘White Glue’ there, recording in the upstairs space before the studio was built, plus CREEP SHOW and I finished ‘Um Dada’ there.

You won’t be surprised to know Phil and I were the first ones in there… we pretty much followed the removal truck down.

But yes, Benge has done a great job – it has taken a few years but it’s brilliant, perfection I’d say. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work there but really it’s about the people and I love working with Benge and the guys. We can work anywhere though… Benge and I finished a Laura Marling mix in an Air B&B in Glasgow.

Yes, we released the WRANGLER album as lockdown happened. We were fortunate to do a couple of gigs before the shutters came down but not great timing… particularly for the videos Aki did, they are too amazing to be missed so I hope they get seen.

The current lockdown is highlighting something you have written about in the past, namely the place of live music in a digital world. With many artists at this time performing set on platforms like Zoom, do you see audiences perceptions of what is ”live” being changed forever?

Zoom is the work of the Devil… a mate just messaged me and said that!

We have to adapt so I see this as a response to a situation, but music was never meant to be experienced live though laptop speakers. I find the funniest thing is how celebrity culture functions in lockdown – the need for attention seems to drive much of it, not a burning creative desire.

Much music is rooted in the experience, and importantly a sense of shared experience. We need a feeling of connection. Live gigs on Zoom seem a bit shit, but everyone is trying to make things work so I don’t want to be moaning on the sidelines, it’ll be interesting to see what we choose to take from all this.

What’s next for you in terms of future projects whether musical or academic, lockdown depending?

Oh I seem to have lots of things on: mixes, collaborations, film projects under way. I’ve shot bits for two promo clips in my bedroom in last three weeks. I’ve written the follow-up to ‘Um Dada’ but need to get to studio to finish.

Sadly all the gigs been cancelled or postponed. I think much seems in preparation for the big return… although that may be a series of small returns right now. One footnote being “try running a Sound Arts course online!”; big respect to everyone out there doing their best to make things work in this different world.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Stephen Mallinder

Additional thanks to Steve Malins at Random Management

‘Pow Wow’ is reissued by Ice Machine on 19th June 2020 in double baby blue vinyl LP, CD and digital formats, pre-order via https://pow-wow.bandcamp.com/album/pow-wow

‘Um Dada’ is available via Dais Records as a vinyl LP in three colours plus the standard black as well as CD and download from https://www.daisrecords.com/products/stephen-mallinder-um-dada

https://www.facebook.com/stephenmallinderofficial/

https://twitter.com/stephenmal

https://www.instagram.com/malmallinder/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Interview by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
10th June 2020

Ten Years Of TEC: ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE

Paul Boddy, freelance producer, musician and writer looks back on ten years of The Electricity Club.

I had known Chi Ming Lai previously via another now defunct website which I used to contribute a variety of bootleg remixes of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE. Once we were on each other’s radars and had moved on, I was very flattered when Chi asked me to start contributing to The Electricity Club.

One of the first pieces I did was an interview with ADAMSKI in 2012. Looking back, this was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d done and completely out of my comfort zone at the time. This was primarily because a) he was a bit of a musical hero of mine as a previous band I was in had covered ‘Killer’ and b) I was faced with the proposition of trying to interview the guy over the phone and then record it using a mobile digital recorder (untried technology for me).

Despite his mobile signal dipping in and out (as he was ambling around London at the time I interviewing him) and the batteries running out on my recorder half-way through, the interview went well and I got a huge sense of achievement once the piece had been transcribed and eventually published.

The main enjoyment I get from occasionally contributing to the site is the ability to interview bands and people within the scene, Chi has kindly put some interviews my way including WANG CHUNG, SHRIEKBACK, KOSHEEN, CHICANE, WRANGLER and CREEP SHOW as well as two of my own personal favourites John Foxx and Ulrich Schnauss. Having the platform to interact with these kind of artists is mind-blowing for me, especially the ones who I have admired and in some places influenced my own musical development. My other approach and contribution to the site is tracking down (some may call this stalking!) artists via social media and approaching them with a view to TEC featuring them in its ‘Missing in Action’ series.

Although a bit hit and miss as some artists don’t always respond when messaged, it has borne fruit with many artists accepting and using the opportunity to reflect and look back on their tenure in the music industry.

In terms of the people I’m most proud of ‘snagging’ in this manner are Scott Simon (OUR DAUGHTER’S WEDDING), Dave ‘Dee’ Harris (FASHIØN), Jerome Froese (TANGERINE DREAM) and Rob Dean (JAPAN). Because of the big interviews already done on the site by Chi, I find that this gives a lot of traction when cold approaching these kind of artists.

However, the icing on the cake was when Chi and myself spent a glorious few hours in a Liverpool Street pub with Stephen Singleton and Mark White from ABC and VICE VERSA. Getting this interview was a long process which started when Stephen contacted me in 2015 with regards to reviewing the VICE VERSA box set; this led to linking up with Mark and after a long period of negotiation and Facebook messenger chats, a face to face interview in 2019 with lots of laughter.

For me this has definitely been my highlight of TEC and although the transcribing of the interview was one of the longest processes I’ve done (the guys LOVED to chat!), the sense of achievement upon completion was huge.

Moving away from the artists themselves and onto electronic synth music itself, Chi and myself have quite differing tastes in music, but with enough crossover that we can still happily work together. The material I favour tends to be male-fronted, often dance-inflected and also with elements of guitars thrown into the mix (see BATTLE TAPES, MAPS, MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY and SPLEEN UNITED).

If you are a reader of the site, you won’t be surprised to hear that along with the other TEC contributors, I continue to be disappointed with the lack of decent UK based synth acts and the exposure that so many second-rate bands continue to get. For a country that has such an amazing heritage of electronic music (like DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, EURYTHMICS, OMD… I can go on), why is it that there are so few acts of quality which are continuing the tradition of these incredible acts?

What grinds my gears the most is the complete lack of emphasis on quality vocals that some UK synth bands have; for many it appears that once a synth backing track has been made, the process of adding vocals is treated as an afterthought. Very little attention is paid to crucial things like tuning / character / lyrics, all traits which have made vocalists such as Alison Moyet and Annie Lennox titans in their field. Whether this will improve and we will get another CHVRCHES or MIRRORS is doubtful, but I live in hope!

Although the original music that I write and produce (J-Pop / K-Pop) isn’t the kind of thing that TEC would champion, it still features a lot of electronics and I have been fortunate to have had success with some major Japanese artists including ARASHI and E-GIRLS (who covered YMO’s ‘Rydeen’).

I continue to write and produce for this market which is great fun. I continue to enjoy performing live as well in various cover bands.

Signing off, TEC has been a wonderful platform for me and has enabled me to interact with many of my musical heroes and also review some of their work too, long may it continue…


Text by Paul Boddy
17th March 2020

TEC’s 2018 End Of Year Review

2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.

But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.

SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.

From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.

But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.

IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.

CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.

JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.

It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.

SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.

Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.

Those who liked their electronic music darker were well served with NINE INCH NAILS, IAMX, KIRLIAN CAMERA and HELIX, but after experimenting with the single only format for a few years, Daniel Graves announced he was taking the plunge again with a new AESTHETIC PERFECTION album.

The Sacred Bones stable provided some quality releases from THE SOFT MOON, HILARY WOODS, ZOLA JESUS and JOHN CARPENTER. Meanwhile, providing some fierce socio-political commentary on the state of the UK was GAZELLE TWIN.

Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.

Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.

Aussies CONFIDENCE MAN provided some wacky dancey glitz to the pop world and after nearly four decades in the business, Canadian trailblazers RATIONAL YOUTH finally played their first ever concert in London at ‘Non Stop Electronic Cabaret’ alongside dark wave compatriots PSYCHE and Numan-influenced Swedish poptronica exponents PAGE.

Sweden was again highly productive with KARIN PARK, JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM, TRAIN TO SPAIN and VAL SOLO while Norway took their own approach with FARAOSOFT AS SNOW and ELECTRO SPECTRE setting their standard. Veteran Deutschlanders THE TWINS and PETER HEPPNER returned with new albums after notable recorded absences while next door in Belgium, METROLAND presented themselves as ‘Men In A Frame’.

While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.

It was a year of interesting collaborations all-round with UNDERWORLD working with Iggy Pop, U96 linking up with Wolfgang Flür for an excellent single called ‘Zukunftsmusik’ and German techno pioneer CHRIS LIEBING recruiting POLLY SCATTERGOOD and GARY NUMAN for his Mute released album ‘Burn Slow’.

Based in Berlin, THE KVB offered up some brooding gothic moods with ‘Only Now Forever’ while Valerie Renay of NOBLESSE OBLIGE released her first solo album ‘Your Own Shadow’.

Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.

Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.

At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.

Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…

The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.

IMMERSION provided a new collection of their modern Motorik as SHRIEKBACK, FISCHERSPOONER, THE PRESETS, HEARTBREAK and QUEEN OF HEARTS all made comebacks of varying degrees with audiences still eager for their work.

STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!

With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame. Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.

With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’

That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.

Having been championed by RÖYSKSOPP, Wales’ MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY returned with ‘Infinity Mirror’ while riding on the well-deserved momentum from opening for OMD, Ireland’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS embarked on their first headlining tour. Representing North of the border were RYAN VAIL and HANNAH PEEL, but hailing from Scotland were WITCH OF THE VALE who proved to be one of the most interesting new acts of 2018 having supported ASSEMBLAGE 23 on their most recent UK visit.

There was a good showing from UK acts in 2018 with RODNEY CROMWELL, ANI GLASS, THE FRIXION, NEW ARCADES, OLLIE WRIDE and FAKE TEAK all issuing some excellent synth tinged songs for public consumption. However, the side was let down by the conveyor belt of lame profanity laden offerings from a number of British acts afflicted with deluded normality.

NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year. The sub-genre was indeed making waves and there were some very enjoyable artists coming out of it like GUNSHIP, DANA JEAN PHOENIX and MICHAEL OAKLEY.

However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.

As Synthwave cynics, The Electricity Club’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.

But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?

Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that The Electricity Club has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.

Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉

This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.

It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.

Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band. Out of all the synth based pop acts of the Synth Britannia era, The Electricity Club had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.

Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.

Taste is always the key, but then not everyone who loves chocolate likes Hersheys… and with that analogy, The Electricity Club bids farewell to 2018 and looks forward to a 2019 that includes the return of TEARS FOR FEARS and the first full live shows from GIORGIO MORODER, plus new releases by VILE ELECTRODESKITE, VILLA NAH, I AM SNOW ANGEL and LADYTRON.


THE ELECTRICITY CLUB Contributor Listings of 2018

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Infinity Mirror
Best Song: MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Lafayette
Best Gig: TANGERINE DREAM at London Union Chapel
Best Video: THE SOFT MOON Give Something
Most Promising New Act: VOX LOW


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: BLANCMANGE Wanderlust
Best Song: ELECTRO SPECTRE The Way You Love
Best Gig: OMD at Glasgow Kelvingrove Park
Best Video: NYXX Voodoo
Most Promising New Act: WITCH OF THE VALE


SIMON HELM

Best Album: DUBSTAR One
Best Song: PAGE Start (Poptronica Version)
Best Gig: DIE KRUPPS + FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY at O2 Academy Islington
Best Video: FIFI RONG Horizon
Most Promising New Act: ZANTi


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: EMIKA Falling In Love With Sadness
Best Song: FIAT LUX It’s You
Best Gig: SOFT CELL at London O2 Arena
Best Video: FAKE TEAK Bears Always Party The Exact Right Amount
Most Promising New Act: WITCH OF THE VALE


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: GUNSHIP Dark All Day
Best Song: SHELTER Karma
Best Gig: IAMX at London Electric Ballroom
Best Video: JUNO REACTOR Let’s Turn On
Most Promising New Act: MECHA MAIKO


Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th December 2018

The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2018

2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.

However, The Electricity Club had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and while it can’t include everything, worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE who were in this year’s shortlist.

Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!

So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…


AFTERHERE Breaking Rules

AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said to The Electricity Club: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”

Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade

https://afterhere.co.uk/wp/


JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM Utopia

While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully told The Electricity Club, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”

Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/bstrommusic/


BLANCMANGE Distant Storm

For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told The Electricity Club.

Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


B-MOVIE Stalingrad

Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s  best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…

Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records

http://www.b-movie.co.uk/


CHVRCHES Graffiti

‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.

Available on the CHVRCHES album ‘Love Is Dead’ via Virgin Records

https://chvrch.es/


CONFIDENCE MAN Don’t You Know I’m In A Band

Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.

Available on the CONFIDENCE MAN album ‘Confident Music For Confident People’ via Heavenly Records

https://www.confidenceman.com.au/


CREEP SHOW Safe & Sound

CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.

Available on the CREEP SHOW album ‘Mr Dynamite’ via Bella Union

http://creepshowmusic.com


RODNEY CROMWELL Comrades

Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.

Available on the RODNEY CROMWELL EP ‘Rodney’s English Disco’ via Happy Robots Records

https://www.happyrobots.co.uk/rodney-cromwell


EMIKA Promises

With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.

Available on the EMIKA album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records

http://emikarecords.com/


FARAO Marry Me

Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.

Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl

http://www.farao.info/


FIAT LUX It’s You

Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.

Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records

http://www.fiat-lux.co.uk


IONNALEE Fold

The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.

Available on the IONNALEE album ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ via To Whom It May Concern

https://ionnalee.com


KATJA VON KASSEL Someday

Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.

Available on the KATJA VON KASSEL EP ‘Walking In West Berlin’ via https://katjavonkassel.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KatjavKassel/


LET’S EAT GRANDMA Donnie Darko

Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!

Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records

http://letseatgrandma.co.uk


CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark

Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.

Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists

http://www.chrisliebing.com/


MECHA MAIKO False Memories

With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.

Available on the MECHA MAIKO album ‘Mad But Soft’ via New Retro Wave

https://www.facebook.com/mechamaiko/


MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY Lafayette

One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”

Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records

https://manwithout.country/


NIGHT CLUB Scary World

“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!

Available on the NIGHT CLUB album ‘Scary World’ via Gato Blanco

http://nightclubband.com/


NINA 80s Girl

A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.

Available on the NINA album ‘Sleepwalking’ via Aztec Records

http://www.ninamusic.co.uk/


SARAH NIXEY Journey

Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.

Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records

http://www.sarahnixey.com/


GARY NUMAN It Will End Here

The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.

Available on the GARY NUMAN EP ‘The Fallen’ via BMG

https://garynuman.com/


NYXX featuring AESTHETIC PERFECTION Voodoo

NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”

Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music

http://www.nyxxnyxxnyxx.com/


PAGE Nere För Räkning

Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.

Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords

https://www.facebook.com/PageElektroniskPop/


PLASMIC Baby Machine

From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.

Available on the PLASMIC EP ‘Validation Nation’ via Devour Records

http://www.plasmic.rocks


REED & CAROLINE Entropy

Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.

Available on the REED & CAROLINE about ‘Hello Science’ via Very Records

https://www.reedandcaroline.com/


FIFI RONG Red Moon Voyage

Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. She told The Electricity Club: “having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions”.

Available on the FIFI RONG single ‘Red Moon Voyage’ via https://fifirong.bandcamp.com/track/red-moon-voyage-full

http://fifirong.com/


SOFT CELL Northern Lights

Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.

Available on the SOFT CELL EP ‘Northern Lights’ via Universal Music

http://www.softcell.co.uk/


STOLEN Turn Black

Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”

Available on the STOLEN ‘Fragment’ via MFS

https://www.facebook.com/strangeoldentertainment/


U96 + WOLFGANG FLÜR Zukunftsmusik

Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.

Available on the U96 single ‘Zukunftsmusik’ via UNLTD Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/U96reboot/


HILARY WOODS Jesus Said

Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.

Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones

http://www.hilarywoods.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd December 2018

JOHN GRANT Love Is Magic

For those familiar with JOHN GRANT’s previous body of work, from ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ onwards there started to be a bipolar nature to his music, swinging from electronic-based tracks being in the minority through to them now being the main focus of his latest work ‘Love is Magic’.

The choice of main producer and CREEP SHOW band mate Benge has obviously been a major factor in this synthetic shift. This will either be a welcome move or could leave fans of Grant’s more acoustic-based material wondering what the hell has happened to the man who penned the downtempo AIR-esque songs such as ‘It’s Easier’ and ‘It Doesn’t Matter to Him’… Also rather tellingly, the cover to ‘Love is Magic’ pays homage to FAD GADGET’s ‘Gag’ album with Grant covered in feathers and striking an upwards pose (albeit wearing vintage Y-fronts and with a bird cage on his head).

Challenging album opener ‘Metamorphosis’ lurches wildly from minimalist 909 kick driven monosynths through to lush VANGELIS and CR78 textures, whilst Grant’s quirky alter-ego voice intones a randomised shopping list of lyrics: “Earthquakes, forest fires, hot Brazilian boys… yeast infection, synthesizers, demisemiquavers, who created ISIS?”

The eponymous ‘Love is Magic’ is a lot more accessible affair, with songwriting harking back to Grant’s earlier work; it’s debatable however whether the synthetic production really does the song proper justice though. The stabbed brass synth, oddly reminiscent of THE POLICE’s ‘Spirits in the Material World’ gives way to a tail-end chorus chord progression straight out of cheese-masters THE CARPENTERS’ songbook.

‘Tempest’ is all triplet delayed synths (which reference KRAFTWERK’s ‘Neon Lights’) and detuned saw bass / pads; the song itself however is pretty forgettable but does feature a rather wonderful outro comprised of 8 bit arcade sounds in a nod to the game featured in the title. ‘Preppy Boy’ takes its cues initially from FAD GADGET’s ‘Love Parasite’, although lyrically we are in SCISSOR SISTERS territory until a trademark Grant synth solo stamps a bit more individuality on the piece.

After the Donald Trump-baiting ‘Smug C*nt’, the tempo is raised for ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips’. Surely one of the more commercial tracks on ‘Love is Magic’ it features a welcome injection of live bass, funk and classic polysynths. Throughout the album, Grant’s lyrics are wonderfully witty, dark and as sharp as a knife; ‘… Mother’s Hips’ is a perfect example with the brilliant opener “I think Colonel Mustard did it in the billiard room / They say his salsa workshops / Are a harbinger of doom”.

‘Is He Strange’ harks back to Grant’s earlier work (albeit with a minimalistic electronic drum pattern rather than acoustic percussion) and a beautiful descending piano and Solina string synth line straight out of ‘Airport’ by THE MOTORS. The album ends with ‘Touch & Go’, an evocative mixture of rippling arpeggiators, piano and live drums.

JOHN GRANT has been quoted as saying “Each record I make is more of an amalgamation of who I am. The more I do this, the more I trust myself, and the closer I get to making what I imagine in my head.”

If that is the case then his musical metamorphosis is pretty much complete with ‘Love is Magic’; this work is poles apart from ‘The Queen of Denmark’ and could potentially lose him some fans as in the main, it is SO different to the musical aesthetic he started with.

There is no pandering to commerciality or laurel-resting here and the willingness to experiment means that ‘Love is Magic’ is not always an easy listen.

It is however a brilliant example of an artist who refuses to compromise and has the spirit of adventure to take listeners on an unpredictable musical journey throughout.


‘Love Is Magic’ is released by Bella Union in the usual formats

http://johngrantmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/johngrantmusic

https://twitter.com/johngrantmusic

https://www.instagram.com/johngrantofficial/

http://bellaunion.com/


Text by Paul Boddy
15th October 2018

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