The Canadian princess of slinky synthwave DANA JEAN PHOENIX has grabbed the attention of not just her homegrown fans, having established herself as the top retro female artist, who toured extensively throughout Europe last annum after the release of her superb long player ‘Pixeldust’.
The tiny powerhouse is a rocket on stage and her live performances have you dancing from the onset, thanks to Phoenix’s fabulous persona and her ability to get the audiences moving, nurtured over the years on the musical theatre stage.
Having collaborated with many artists within the genre, the slinky pursuer of endless possibilities joins forces with Vienna-based POWERNERD. The POWERNERD guys are rather elusive, describing their product as “synthwave with heavy metal vocals”, which sounds hard to fathom and whets the appetite even more.
‘Megawave’ is the baby of this unlikely collaboration, seeing the Toronto princess lend her sweet vocal to create something uniquely enchanting. The title track establishes the tone of this sunny record, with a classic easy listening tune, good enough to fall in love to, with the retro offerings the dainty singer is well known for.
Next she’s fighting robots, oh yes, but she doesn’t want to do it by herself. ‘Fight These Robots’ is a classic funky number with a dose of girly cheekiness, while ‘Living Rent Free’ introduces more electronica, still holding on to the retro themes, blossoming into a perfect summer’s day song.
‘Sunrise Stance’ gets one up and dancing, Dana style, it’s bouncy, cool and glossy; leg warmers off, hair down and neon lycra mini dress on.
Thanks to the wonders of ‘New Technology’, Phoenix and co create an extraordinary synth ballad. But it’s ‘Moves Moves Moves’ that lures you back into the arcade and out again to the disco. The electrifying twister beams with musicality and craziness of the long gone era, creating nostalgic nod to the bygones.
‘Figure Me Out’ presents itself twice, first as a grand synthylicious piece, then remixed by NEW ARCADES. The latter is deliciously current, being scrumptiously old worldly, no cloud in the sky, sun beaming high and Dana’s in her element.
However, it’s the glorious arpeggios of ‘Fight These Robots’, this time remixed by STRAPLOCKED that shines most brightly on the new offering. This version is punchy, straight to the point and very wholesome.
Phoenix has previously worked with POWERNERD who produced ‘Only One For One Night’, as well as STRAPLOCKED who helped her with ‘Iron Fist’. Collaborations are plenty in the world of synthwave, which the Toronto artist fully appreciates.
She’s also glad for the fact of not having been born in the midst of the synthpop era, as she feels she’s got more musical freedom in the world of today: “I’m actually so glad to be here and now. as awesome as the 80s were, there were huge barriers of entry for artists who weren’t willing to have record companies dictate their sound and image.”
Nobody dictates what DANA JEAN PHOENIX does, she’s her own boss and does extremely well for it.
It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label. The Electricity Club was it and became reality on 15th March 2010.
Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned The Electricity Club’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.
At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.
The Electricity Club preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary with the next generation of artists like MARSHEAUX, VILE ELECTRODES, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS more than fitting the bill and that ethos of featuring pop music using synthesizers stuck too.
Meanwhile, The Electricity Club’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.
The Electricity Club has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.
Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”; and that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.
Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.
Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time The Electricity Club felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.
But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, The Electricity Club decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.
During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’. With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!
2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What The Electricity Club achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.
Although 2014 started tremendously with The Electricity Club being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.
The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.
But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest, with one artist of a far too normal disposition in particular failing to realise that in order for a crowdfunding campaign to succeed, they needed to actually have quite a few fans in the first place!
Then, there was the similarly clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!
Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.
2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.
It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to offer some revealing insights.
Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.
VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that The Electricity Club first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.
However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.
The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.
And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.
And don’t get The Electricity Club started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!
With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.
Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on The Electricity Club.
The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.
EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!
But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.
2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.
Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.
Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling a narcisstic entitlement to be featured. A few deluded artists even went as far as to blame The Electricity Club publically for their lack of traction! NoW that’s what The Electricity Club calls deluded!
If an act is good enough, the fact that The Electricity Club hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, The Electricity Club maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.
Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantaneously champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not The Electricity Club’s thing frankly…
The Electricity Club’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six TEC branded live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉
Other highlights over the last ten years have included The Electricity Club’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.
There was also ‘The Electricity Club’ 2CD released by Amour Records in 2019 which included TEC featured acts like MESH, SECTION 25, SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, NIGHT CLUB, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, DAYBEHAVIOR, LIEBE, TWINS NATALIA, KID MOXIE, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS, ELEVEN: ELEVEN, AUTOMATIC WRITING, FOTONOVELA and QUEEN OF HEARTS among its 34 excellent tracks, including a bangin’ MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry!
As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with The Electricity Club. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.
The Electricity Club is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk. With artists like ANI GLASS, IMI, KNIGHT$, NINA, MECHA MAIKO, GEISTE and PLASMIC among those on the cusp of a wider breakthrough, there is still more excellent music still to be created, discovered and savoured.
One inferior revivalist platform featuring far too much normal rubbish once complained that The Electricity Club “only feature bands that are popular…”; what they actually mean is “only feature bands that are really good”! 😉
The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to everyone who has taken the time read any article on the site over the last ten years, it is greatly appreciated.
‘The Electricity Club’ is released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records as a 34 track 2CD set in a deluxe 6 panel digipak with track-by-track commentary and ‘O’ card; the compilation be purchased from the following retailers:
01 MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive
02 KID KASIO Full Moon Blue
03 ELECTRONIC CIRCUS Roundabout
04 DAYBEHAVIOR It’s A Game (Marsheaux remix)
05 MARNIE The Hunter
06 ELEVEN:ELEVEN Through The Veil
07 NIGHT CLUB Cruel Devotion
08 QUEEN OF HEARTS United
09 KATY PERRY Hot ‘N’ Cold (Marsheaux remix)
10 ERASURE Be The One (Paul Humphreys remix)
11 KID MOXIE The Bailor
12 KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS Oostende
13 FOTONOVELA featuring JAMES NEW Our Sorrow (Original mix)
14 GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS Jessica 6
15 AUTOMATIC WRITING Continuous
16 METROLAND Thalys (London Edit)
17 RODNEY CROMWELL Black Dog
01 SIN COS TAN Trust
02 POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless (Vince Clarke remix)
03 TENEK What Do You Want? (Alternate TEC version)
04 ANALOG ANGEL We Won’t Walk Away
05 ARTHUR & MARTHA Autovia
06 MARSHEAUX Suffer The Children
07 SECTION 25 My Outrage
08 047 featuring LISA PEDERSEN Everything’s Fine
09 TAXX Is It Love?
10 LIEBE I Believe In You
11 QUIETER THAN SPIDERS Shanghai Metro
12 iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound
13 TWINS NATALIA Destiny
14 MESH Tuesday
15 MIRRORS Between Four Walls
16 OMD Time Burns (Fotonovela rework)
17 VILE ELECTRODES Deep Red
Please note this product is NOT on sale through The Electricity Club website and only via retailers
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Image Design by Volker Maass
16th March 2020
Like Sweden, as a country with a relatively small population in relation to land mass, Canada punches above its weight when it comes to its contribution to popular music.
Canada’s internationally famous artists may be Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Alanis Morisette, but there have been so many more that have been far more interesting.
Canada has been a significant presence in synth from the post-punk pioneers such as NASH THE SLASH and CERAMIC HELLO, to international MTV-era hits from the likes of MEN WITHOUT HATS, TRANS-X and KON KAN, up to the present day via the mainstream profile of GRIMES, PURITY RING and CRYSTAL CASTLES. Meanwhile, it also has developed into a hub for the burgeoning sub-genre of Synthwave thanks to FM ATTACK and DANA JEAN PHOENIX.
Like in the UK with the availability of affordability of technology from Japan in particular, Canadian youngsters were taking up synthesizers. And while several were to attain cult status like RATIONAL YOUTH and PYSCHE, some such as the Winnipeg trio EUROPA were destined just to have their moment on domestic television without an official release to their name.
Today, the tradition continues with artists such as DEADMAU5, TIGA, KOISHII & HUSH, LOLA DUTRONIC and TECHNIQUES BERLIN covering a wide spectrum of electronic pop and dance music.
So here is The Electricity Club’s list of 25 tracks from the circuit boards of Canada, subject to a limit of one per artist moniker, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. But notice a void in between 1990 to 2000 when it could be said that the likes of Dion, Adams and Morisette dominated the airwaves of the globe.
However, the number of electronic acts who have appeared in the 21st Century have more than made up for things.
CERAMIC HELLO Climatic Nouveaux (1980)
CERAMIC HELLO were a duo who hailed from Burlington in Ontario, formed by Brett Wickens in 1980 after leaving post-punk band SPOONS. He teamed up with Roger Humphreys who added a more classical bent to their minimal synth in the vein of JOHN FOXX and FAD GADGET. Their first release was the detached cold wave paranoia of ‘Climatic Nouveaux’. Wickens later moved to England to join Peter Saville Associates, making a major contribution to the artwork for OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’.
NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN and was signed to Dindisc Records. It was during this period that he had his highest mainstream media profile with features in ‘Smash Hits’; it was with the pop mag that his best known recording in the UK came via a blue flexi-disc with an early self-produced stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ sitting next to his label mates OMD’s live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’. He sadly passed away in 2014.
Hailing from Montreal, ‘The Safety Dance’ was written by MEN WITHOUT HATS lead singer Ivan Doroschuk after he had been kicked out of a club for pogoing, thus it was effectively a protest song against conformity, a call for freedom of expression. it had been misinterpreted as a being about safe sex and as an anti-nuclear protest song. The bouncy almost medieval feel combined with Doroschuk’s vocals like a less doomy Andrew Eldritch to produce a huge international hit.
Hailing from Toronto and lead by Gordon Deppe, after the acclaim for the 1981 debut album ‘Stick Figure Neighbourhood’, the songs on the second ‘Arias & Symphonies’ were more European influenced. With JAPAN producer John Punter behind the desk, the title song was an perfect amalgam of prog theatrics, new wave gallop and synth pomp. SPOONS were soon to be opening for bands such as SIMPLE MINDS and THE POLICE. Today, Deppe is also the guitarist for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.
STRANGE ADVANCE were a Canadian new wave band formed in Vancouver, made up of Drew Arnott (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Darryl Kromm (lead vocals, guitars), and Paul Iverson (bass). Utilising synthesizers and advances in programming technology, their music was a fusion of progressive rock and MTV friendly pop that struck a chord, with the lyrical couplet “The time is right / We’ll love tonight” of ‘Love Games’ capturing the mood of times.
The stunning Martha Ladly was more than just a pretty face; she was a musician, vocalist, artist and designer. Following her stints with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, ASSOCIATES and doing paintings for Peter Saville’s NEW ORDER sleeve artwork, she teamed up with Brett Wickens from CERAMIC HELLO on this charming pop tune which echoed THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Open Your Heart’. Peter Hook provided his distinctive melodic six-string bass while the dynamic production came from Steve Nye.
Originally released as a single by Island Records, currently unavailable
The classic RATIONAL YOUTH line-up of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda gained acclaim for their 1982 debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’, which became one of the biggest-selling Canadian independent albums at the time and secured a deal with Capitol Records. However, Vorn left to continue his university studies, but contributed synth programming to ‘Holiday In Bangkok’, a sinister overwrought warning about the dangers of becoming international drug mule.
Available on the album ‘Heredity’ via Capitol Records
French-born Canadian Pascal Languirand was the man behind TRANS-X, and had previously been known for his spacey progressive rock solo albums like ‘Minos’ and ‘De Harmonia Universalia’. Originally issued in French as ‘Vivre Sur Video’, this cosmic octave-shifting electronic dance tune, with additional vocals by Laurie Ann Gill, became a massive hit worldwide after being re-released in 1985 and went onto to influence Electroclash artists such as FISCHERSPOONER and MISS KITTIN.
PSYCHE are the acclaimed dark synthpop duo from Edmonton, founded by the Huss brothers Darrin and Stephen. Of the foreboding overtones of ‘The Saint Became A Lush’, “Many think the main sequence sounds like ‘Tubular Bells’ and there may be some element of that as it was used in ‘The Exorcist’ movie which my brother loved” Darrin said, “It’s also inspired by JOY DIVISION, as I was really going for the sound of a world weary preacher and channelling the voice of Ian Curtis for that.”
“Love cannot attach itself to binding ugliness” goes the theatrical horror of ‘Dig It’; formed in Vancouver by cEvin Key of IMAGES IN VOGUE and vocalist Nivek Ogre, SKINNY PUPPY are widely considered as the pioneers of industrial. ‘Dig It’ was a big favourite of NINE INCH NAILS mainman Trent Reznor and heavily influenced his own track ‘Down In It’ which appeared on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, so much so that he later confessed he had actually sampled it!
Mitsou Annie Marie Gélinas achieved the comparatively unusual feat of having a francophone pop hit across Canada with ‘Bye Bye Mon Cowboy’. But her best tune was the saucy Fairlighted ‘Les Chinois’ from the multicultural-themed album ‘El Mundo’. Written and produced by Jean Pierre Isaac who later worked with Céline Dion, she exclaimed “Non non non c’est pas comme ça, qu’on fait l’amour, regarde les Chinois”… was she trying to make babies?
The project of Barry Harris, the KON KAN name was a play on the policy of “Canadian Content” which enforced Canadian radio station to air at least 30% domestic music. Voiced by Kevin Wynne, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was not just content with borrowing off NEW ORDER but inspired by ‘Pump Up The Volume’, used samples of other songs like ‘Rose Garden’, ‘Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)’ and ‘Get Up & Boogie’, as well as National Lampoon’s ‘Disco Hotline’. This mash-up became a huge international one hit wonder.
Toronto-based Jason Amm is all about “synthesizers, drum machines, fx, knobs, buttons, wires, wave, electro, acid”. But while he is now best known for his documentary film ‘I Dream Of Wires’, he has a vast catalogue of music released under the SOLVENT moniker. With gentle vocoder treatments and glorious whirring synths, ‘Wish’ set a pattern for acts like FOTONOVELA and QUIETER THAN SPIDERS to follow in the understated melodic machine pop stakes.
Toronto’s DRAGONETTE comprised of singer Martina Sorbara, producer Dan Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer. The acclaim for their self-released self-titled EP led to a deal with Mercury Records and a relocation to the UK. Opening shows for BASEMENT JAXX and SUGABABES, the highlight of their debut album ‘Galore’ was ‘I Get Around’ which was previewed on Planet Clique and Lucky Pierre’s ‘Robopop – The Return’ compilation. It also was used in ‘The Vampire Diaries’.
Available on the album ‘Galore’ via Mercury Records
With ‘Drive’ star Ryan Gosling being a notable FM ATTACK admirer, Shawn Ward has concocted a unique hybrid electronic sound combining Gino Soccio and Giorgio Moroder with Italo disco, French house, new wave and post-punk, all with a fine-honed musicality. From 2009’s ‘Dreamatic’ album which opened up the gates and led the way for what was to become Synthwave, ‘Sleepless Nights’ crossed arpeggios with octave lilts for an enjoyable vocoder-laced romp.
Named after a line in ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’ and capturing a gritty lo-fi electronic sound, Toronto’s CRYSTAL CASTLES were a world apart from other modern duos with chaotic live shows that had an almost demonic energy. With Ethan Kath’s deliberately distorted synthetic goth-punk and Alice Glass’ afflicted vocal presence, ‘Suffocation’ was haunted, yet captured an understated beauty. But in October 2014, Glass announced that she was leaving to pursue a solo career amid acrimony.
Named after the goddess of light in Latvian mythology, Toronto’s AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of arty electronica fuelled by the sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blended light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrowed from classic DEPECHE MODE and crossed it with THE KNIFE for ‘Spellwork’, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album ‘Feel It Break’.
While Claire Boucher might be now more widely known for being the girlfriend of Elon Musk, she began as the kooky Montreal sensation GRIMES, sounding like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Presented in a fun leftfield lady meets pop princess fusion, ‘Oblivion’ was a sumptuously infectious tune that despite the almost unintelligible vocals and weird noises, was probably the most immediate track on her ‘Visions’ album which also featured less immediate but equally enjoyable ‘Genesis’.
Behind PARALLELS is Holly Dodson and on their second long player was a lovely synthpop version of GOWAN’s 1987 rock tune ‘Moonlight Desires’. She said of her love for the song: “We hear the original version it all the time in Canada. It’s always fulfilled all the necessary criteria – incredible hooks, the moon, magic melodies, nostalgia. I just recently learned that GOWAN’s actually heard the cover… and approves!! Which is SUCH a relief haha…”
Available on the album ‘XII’ via Marigold Productions
TR/ST began as the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left to return to AUSTRA, the debut ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. From it, the filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of sinister portamento and hypnotic dance beats. Postepski returned to the fold for the recent double album opus ‘The Destroyer’, but Alfons still remains something of an awkward character.
Bill Leeb formed FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY in 1986 after his short stint with SKINNY PUPPY under the name Wilhelm Schroeder. With Rhys Fulber as the other long standing member, they were influenced by acts such as CABARET VOLTAIRE, PORTION CONTROL, DAF, TEST DEPT and SPK. Having integrated guitars, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY returned to making exclusively electronic music on their fifteenth album ‘Echogenetic’, the highlight of which was ‘Killing Grounds’.
Hailing from Toronto, ELECTRIC YOUTH‘s collaboration with COLLEGE entitled ‘A Real Hero’ was included on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack’ in 2011. Their debut album ‘Innerworld’ finally came out in Autumn 2014 and one of its highlights was another collaboration, this time with ROOM8 called ‘Without You’. Echoing Aussie combo ICEHOUSE and ‘Great Southern Land’ in particular, its bridge and chorus were particularly tremendous with a nostalgic Brat Pack movie presence.
Available on the album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian
With CHVRCHES having had success borrowing PURITY RING’s electro template, the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice. The pair off a major surprise by working with Katy Perry on three songs for her 2017 album ‘Witness’.
Self-described as a “Retro Synthwave Singer”, Toronto’s DANA JEAN PHOENIX isn’t a stranger to synthylicious ditties. Having moved away slightly from pure Synthwave styles, as one of the best live solo synth performers currently, she enjoys rocking out onstage with her keytar Jareth. The sparkling template of one of her most rousing numbers ‘Only One For One Night’ brought along a youthful escapism that reminisced about first loves and first disappointments.
Available on the album ‘PixelDust’ via New EmPire Entertainment
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Torontonian, Hayley Stewart. The delightfully odd ‘Apathy’ from her second album ‘Let’s!’ was an inventive oddball fusion of jazz swing Charleston, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!
Founded by Brett Simpson and Stuart McLaren, Outland have become one of the best known synthwave and retrowave brands in the UK.
The success of ‘Drive’ and ‘Stranger Things’ with their notable synth dominated soundtracks attracted a new audience to electronic music.
With it came a desire for live events incorporating filmic aesthetics that embraced a nostalgic futurism for an escapist world that was more like David Hasselhoff’s ‘Knight Rider’ rather than David Cronenberg’s ‘Crash’.
Having organised big events in London, Glasgow and Toronto, as well as double and triple billings alongside summer sunset boat cruises on the River Thames, Outland recently launched a record label.
Outland’s next adventures include two shows headlined by OLLIE WRIDE in Glasgow and London, with a multi-act presentation led by DANA JEAN PHOENIX called ‘Retrowave D’Luxe’ following in the capital a few months after.
Stuart McLaren kindly took time out from his busy schedule to talk to The Electricity Club about Outland’s aspirations and progression within the realms of modern synth music.
Outland has just announced ‘Retrowave D’Luxe’ taking place on Saturday 6th June, this is your biggest live event for a while?
It’s quite a big line-up in that we have six artists performing and the last time we did anything like this in London, was back in 2017 for the first Outland city-series event. However, ‘Retrowave D’Luxe’ is more of a boutique-style synthwave event since it’s held at Gigi’s Hoxton Underbelly, which is only 220 capacity.
‘Retrowave D’Luxe’ is not on a boat, starts early and doesn’t go on too late… that sounds perfect for The Electricity Club! What can people expect? 😉
Aaah yes, we’re well aware of TEC’s aversion to water-going craft and the fast moving water of the Thames! This event will showcase the lighter poppier side of synthwave, so expect vocal performances and a distinct inclination towards the retrowave aspects of the genre. We’ll be focusing on the positive and feel-good side of live synthwave while keeping the tempo and energy up.
No matter how big or small though, each Outland event showcases the talents of our VJ Will C, who creates bespoke visual elements which are projected on stage for each of the artist performances. We never try to stray from providing a seamless immersive experience of live synthwave for any of the shows we produce. We approach every show as a first; a showcase for folks who are attending an Outland gig for the first time or who have only recently discovered synthwave.
What inspired you to put on synthwave themed events in the first place?
There weren’t any taking place! Modern synthwave music remained largely an internet phenomenon consumed through online streaming platforms, at least first through Myspace circa 2007 when THE VALERIE COLLECTIVE out of Nantes France kicked off what would later become known as ‘synthwave’, along with the UK’s very own 80S STALLONE and US acts like LAZERHAWK and MIAMI NIGHTS 1984.
I guess synthwave still remains a largely bedroom / home studio-produced music genre – there’s nothing wrong with that of course, some of the best 80s synthpop was written and produced in dank bedsits across the country in Thatcherite England.
By the time the mainstream caught whiff with the release of the movie ‘Drive’ with its luscious synth soundtrack and also M83’s ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ in 2011, there was still no sign of live synthwave performance, at least not in London. When British synthwave act GUNSHIP (ex-FIGHTSTAR members Dan Haigh and Alex Westaway) released their self-titled debut in 2015, there was yet to be some form of live synthwave event here in the old smoke. At the time, I was performing in a Prefab Sprout tribute act and promoting and managing touring South African artists and comedians in the UK.
My old friend and synthwave cohort Brett Simpson suggested we form a brand and host live synthwave events in London. It was really for the love of the music and to satisfy our own selfish needs of wanting to see our favourite synthwave artists live! And so Outland was born – we presented the first Outland production at London’s Clapham Grand in 2017. I’m not sure what we were thinking going into a 1200-capacity venue, but it certainly caused a stir having piqued the interest of Gary Langan of THE ART OF NOISE and the other 650 people in attendance – a massive ball-twisting gamble which paid off somehow!
Were there any particular artists that you enjoyed who made you think something like a scene was emerging?
Absolutely. Artists like GUNSHIP, TIMECOP1983, TREVOR SOMETHING and FM-84 began blowing up on social media and also through video releases on New Retro Wave (Synthwave YouTube channel now with almost 1 million subscribers). We knew there was an online market but there’s one thing contemplating that and knowing one can put bums on seats in a venue – it’s so risky but then that’s par for the course with live music promotion, I guess. It took some convincing for the venue managers and programmers and of course lots of marketing spend, but luckily that first show panned out – London’s live synthwave scene was born!
We were lucky to have gained the trust and participation from some of the biggest names in the scene at the time in TIMECOP1983, NINA, 80S STALLONE and SUNGLASSES KID. We would have had London’s NEW ARCADES on that line-up too had they been available and not cavorting on the ski slopes of Chamonix!
Outland had put on more, shall we say manageable sized presentations over the last 18 months like NINA + KNIGHT$ or DANA JEAN PHOENIX, KALAX + LEBROCK, FM ATTACK + FUTURECOP! and OLLIE WRIDE + WOLF CLUB, having tried the all-day and late-night event formats initially?
Well actually, we’d have preferred to continue hosting the big shows in London year on year but a couple other synthwave promoters picked up on things in 2017, so we felt things were becoming a bit crowded in what we felt was still a very niche market.
So we took our big city-series productions on the road to Glasgow in 2018 and then Toronto last year, with the view of proliferating and propagating the ‘word’ beyond London. But being London-based, we also wanted to ensure we were looking after touring artists who might be including the capital with their European tour plans. That’s how the first DANA JEAN PHOENIX show came along with NIGHTCRAWLER in March 2018 at Electrowerkz.
I have a long-standing relationship with The Halfmoon in Putney and was offered an Independent Venue Week slot in February last year, and what a better showcase for synth in South West London than to host NINA and KNIGHT$, which turned out to be quite a party south of the river. We generally also found attendance levels dropping so by necessity we had to drop capacity and work with venues which only offered ‘gig slots’ with curfews at 10pm-11pm.
It was all a bit hit and miss really, until we were able to find a formula that now sort of works, which is selling out smaller venues with artists that the ‘scene’ hasn’t seen yet. This is why the FM ATTACK show was such a phenomenal success as well Ollie’s sold out solo show at Camden Assembly.
Had these gigs been to test the water and build an audience?
Yes in the sense that we were trying to gauge what artists work and what artists don’t, as well as what capacity it took to sell out the venues we put those artists in. One can rely a little bit on Spotify listening stats and social media vanity stats, but those don’t necessarily paint the whole picture.
Take L’AVENUE for example. Here’s a new kid on the synthwave block with very little Facebook reach, yet his inclusion in the ‘Retrowave D’Luxe’ line-up has had an enormously positive response so far. Ultimately though, we’d like to think we’re building an audience from the artists’ fanbases as well as those who simply want to attend an Outland show for the experience.
The FM ATTACK gig which Outland put on at Electrowerkz was interesting as that appeared to attract a much younger club crowd than would normally be seen at synth-based events?
I’m thrilled you mention that. A large chunk of the average demographic of attendance to synthwave shows is in the region 35-45 years old and mostly male. I think popular synthwave blogger Vehlinggo calls this the Dadwave effect haha. We’ve been trying to break the scene to the ultimate viral market – students – but I guess grime and reggaeton is the new grunge now! We’ll get there though. I suppose both FM ATTACK and FUTURECOP! draw a younger fan base due to the nature of their style of music, which lends itself more to crossover contemporary club beats and melodies. Whilst FM ATTACK has one foot firmly in 80s keys and synthwave, the other is always stepping forward with modern arrangements and future sounds.
So what’s it been like dealing with the various venues in the UK?
We’ve found that once we’ve dealt with the venue programmers and booking teams and produced the shows, we’re always invited back due to the both the numbers we pull and the bar sales on alcohol. We’ve always had compliments back from venue managers on what a fantastic trouble-free crowd the synthwave lot are. I guess it’s also important to pay careful attention to venue hire agreements and terms so that there are no surprises down the line.
However, all this doesn’t necessarily make things easier in securing the right venues for Outland productions. In London especially, we’ve understood that much of the synth crowd hold high pressure jobs and tend to prefer weekend shows. This is problematic since most decent venues in the capital are booked out months in advance – in most cases 6-8 months. The other issue we face, which seems to be a new thing across the board, is that venues seem only prepared to offer live ‘gig slots’ with 5pm load-ins and 10pm curfews, so as to make way for their own ‘club nights’ thereafter.
Photo by Connor Watt
Live synthwave of course can be presented both as a live band performance but also as one-man DJ + MIDI keyboard and pattern sequencer performances, so the whole production lends itself to an all-nighter type experience. We’d prefer also to run our events to the early hours, like our promoter friends Miami Cyber Nights (Frankfurt) and Retro Synth Fury (Paris) across the channel do.
Whilst venue hire fees are reasonable in London, there are one or two venues we’d love to work with but the rates are just way over the top for the capacity on offer, which is a pity. Mind you, we were exploring running the next city series show in New York City this year and when I found out that a 1000 cap room on average there costs over $15k a day, my eyes shot out their sockets – it’s still unbelievable to me.
Outland ran its most ambitious event yet in Toronto, how did you find working in that city compared with London?
It was hot! Devil’s-ass hot! Seriously though Toronto in the high 30s is almost unbearable, mad as a box of frogs that was – I don’t recommend it. We were however very lucky to secure the 660 cap Mod Club in the Little Italy area of Toronto. Management and tech over there were great to work with and very accommodating with load-in and late curfew times – we went on until 1am I recall.
The whole lead up to that event and the phenomenal support we had there from both the fans and the artists was eye-watering. Nothing beats promoter satisfaction flying artists from all over Europe and America to Canada and then selling out the room. I’m not sure we can trounce that one but we’ll see what happens later this year…
Canada does appear to be something of a creative hub for synth music at the moment; did that make it more straightforward to put together a dreamboat line-up in Toronto?
Well, we aspire to taking these big city-series events across the world to new places – in cities where there’s a healthy music-loving market, especially if there’s even a hint of synthwave and retrogaming fandom. Toronto was an easy choice for us because some of the most cutting-edge synth artists are locals: DANA JEAN PHOENIX, MICHAEL OAKLEY, PARALLELS and MECHA MAIKO. Not only that but Canada forms a big part of the whole history behind synthwave.
THE VALERIE COLLECTIVE’s David Grellier aka COLLEGE teaming up with Canadians ELECTRIC YOUTH to write arguably the most well-known synthwave tune ‘A Real Hero’, which appeared on the movie ‘Drive’ featuring Canadian actor Ryan Gosling. Then there’s the whole LE MATOS and MIAMI NIGHTS 1984 affiliation to Canada and, lest we forget, the incredibly hilarious antics of popular synthwave video blogger and Torontonian Andy Last from Beyond Synth.
We generally prefer to take Outland to cities where synthwave hasn’t necessarily been showcased live yet, hence the reason not taking the brand across the channel to Stockholm, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris or Amsterdam, where popular synth promoters Night Arcade operate.
There was the cancellation of an event in Manchester that was due to be headlined by TIMECOP1983, is synthwave set to be a London-centred phenomenon, in the UK at least?
Yeah that was a bit unfortunate. It’s disappointing seeing synthwave shows cancelled outright because then people start talking about the genre for all the wrong reasons. I’m just not sure if enough promotion went into that event. A popular Kiwi musician once told me: “Stu son, if you want to fill a venue then make bloody sure you spend at least 10% of your perceived gross on promotion! That’s Marketing 101 fella.”
Manchester actually has a healthy little synthwave scene on the boil there with local promoters like MCR Nights / Max Speed and Steel City Synthwave holding the torch. THE MIDNIGHT performed there last year in Albert Hall and it was near full. While London continues to top worldwide Spotify listenership stats for synthwave in general, we’re very positive that the penchant for the genre is growing across the country. Our Glasgow event in 2018 was well attended and LEBROCK are selling out small venues from Bristol to Peterborough, so there’s definitely something happening.
As an enthusiast of synth-based music for over 40 years, it’s had its ups and downs while The Electricity Club has seen many promoters come and go, some good and some very poor. Is it important to manage expectations as far as the perceived popularity of the form and therefore, adapt events to that?
Great point and absolutely. When we saw attendance numbers dropping a tad in 2018, we had to think out of the box and that’s how the Outland Sunset Cruises came about. There’s a helluva lot more financial risk hiring a Thames River vessel for 200, but ultimately people flocked to it and were willing to part with their dollar as it was a new experience – we do it year on year now.
I think it’s important for managers, promoters and artists alike to look at ways to add value to stage performances, whether that’s spending extra on LX / FX or adding a visual element. Gone are the days where U2 and dare we say DEPECHE MODE, are the only acts that can afford to sprinkle on a little technical gold dust and wow factor. Simple and affordable solutions now exist that leaves no excuse to being creative with presentation in small venues. It is what will drive popularity of the live performance across the music spectrum, especially in this modern era where people can laze out live streaming live concerts on massive HD home theatre systems from the comfort of their home sofas.
Is there much mileage in long all-day events or ones running through the night with more than ten acts?
London is crying out for this sort of thing. Combine that with a screening of a retrosynth film like ‘Kung Fury’ and some relevant cosplay dress up, together with live performances in separate rooms of chillwave / lo-fi acts, retro synthwave and darksynth and we’ve got a synth festival winner. A venue like Electrowerkz lends itself perfectly to this, but the issue is finding a weekend that isn’t booked up a year in advance by the goths or Torture Garden! *laughs*
Outland has now gone down the record label route, how is that progressing? Please tell us about your signings?
It’s going really well, but it’s lots of work. We’re trying to take it slow so we’re actually turning down quite a fair amount of submissions.
Apart from NEW ARCADES and MORGAN WILLIS, we’ll be looking at a releasing a few other artists this year, but ultimately, we need to be realistic and continue to offer the best we can in focused artist development and promotion.
We’re not a glorified physical merch distributor acting as a label – there’s release plan and content strategy, upstream and distribution, registering rights, release promotion and PR. Then the label management aspect as well as artist development and A&R.
We’re moving into the publishing side as well because there appears to be so much value in synchronisation opportunities for synthwave. The ‘Stranger Things’ OST is only the tip of the iceberg. It seems the whole music industry is being turned on its head and if a music company is not diversifying, then there’s risk it can get left behind or go bust.
Record labels are becoming streaming services; talent management companies are becoming record labels; distributors are having a go at becoming managers and publishing agents. Ticket agents have become venue owners. And artists are stuck in the middle.
However, we were already promoting artists and their releases, as well as showcasing their talents live through the events. All we were missing was the content to get behind, so going the label route was a natural progression for us. I guess we’re trying to ensure we’re covering all the bases we know we can manage well, to ensure the genre gets the recognition it deserves without taking too much of an unmanageable bite at the same time. It’s a fine balancing act but it’s a thrilling ride.
It would seem there is a lot more what is being termed “vocal synthwave” and although The Electricity Club is enjoying this variant, it considers this to be more like classic synthpop, how do you see synthwave developing? The purists do seem to prefer things to be solely instrumental…
I think there’s a common misconception, even from the so-called synthwave purists, that the music became popular through its instrumental roots. This couldn’t be further from the truth – much of the gateway songs to the genre originate from the ‘Drive’ soundtrack, so, ‘A Real Hero’ by COLLEGE & ELECTRIC YOUTH, DESIRE’S ‘Under Your Spell’, KAVINSKY’s ‘Nightcall’ and so forth. GUNSHIP’s seminal debut was almost entirely vocal synthwave at its purest.
I can understand why there’s a preference for the instrumental though – WAVESHAPER’s ‘Sarah’s Theme’ is a glorious piece of music. The MIAMI NIGHTS 1984 back catalogue is instrumental synthwave at its purest. While there seems to be traces of insanely possessive custodianship of the definition and preferred path synthwave should take, I think it’s ultimately vocal synthwave which will present the sub-genre to the mainstream properly and place it firmly on the map.
It’s already happening – THE MIDNIGHT are filling +1500 cap rooms across the UK, Europe and US. From experience of the UK market, those numbers tell me many of their fans don’t even realise they’re listening to synthwave, which I think is a good thing – it means the music is traversing boundaries of genre. If there were 1500 ‘synthwave’ fans in Manchester, the Night Arcades TIMECOP1983 event there would not have been cancelled.
Yes, it’s like CHVRCHES fans aren’t exclusively ‘synthpop’ enthusiasts, Kerrang called them an “alt-pop trio” when they were featured so as not to upset their regular readership…
There’s a fine line distinguishing vocal synthwave apart from 80s and modern synthpop, and certainly some artists can be palmed off as both eg MICHAEL OAKLEY, NINA, OLLIE WRIDE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, PARALLELS, NEW ARCADES and of course THE MIDNIGHT. But at the same time we’ve found that there are loads of modern synthpop acts that are trying to pass themselves off as synthwave, just to climb on the bandwagon of the recent popularity of the genre.
Of course like back in the day, there are those who want nothing to do with being ‘synth’ at all despite using synths! It happens the other way round too though, as there are OMD fans who are in denial about the band using sequencers…
Yes, we have what I would define as the synthwave deniers – the popular gateway acts that are well and truly synthwave in many aspects, but distance themselves entirely from the genre label – I think it’s unhelpful.
As a synthwave promoter, we’re obviously keen to push the value of propagating the term and related hashtags and to ensure it obtains the genre recognition it deserves within distribution aggregators and digital advertising platforms. Furthermore, referencing synthwave for what it is, sets it apart from the tens of thousands of standard synthpop and electro acts that exist today.
It’s interesting how the ‘synthwave’ term does allow more variation in some ways, with the metal sensibilities of LEBROCK and the AOR aspects of THE MIDNIGHT?
Yes for sure. Well, we like to define the term synthwave as “electronic music and art aesthetic influenced by 80s synthesized music, soundtracks and video games which inspire the listener to imagine a future that never quite happened”.
LEBROCK ticks that box as they define themselves as “80s melodic rock riffs with shimmering synthwave melodies…”. Perhaps the term ‘Retrorock’ should be added to the myriad of synthwave sub genres to make matters even more confusing!
Seriously though, the rock element within the synthwave genre isn’t new – axe wielding wizards DANCE WITH THE DEAD are famously synthwave and when we start drawing in darksynth acts like CARPENTER BRUT and PERTURBATOR with their almost metal sensibilities, they’re still synthwave acts at heart to their fans, and indeed even gateway artists to the whole genre.
However, while those acts are able to fill The Roundhouse, I feel THE MIDNIGHT, FM-84 and OLLIE WRIDE, who are represented professionally by the best agents in the business, are less underground and therefore in a better position to put the genre on the map via daytime play on mainstream radio stations.
Photo by Gina-Leigh Smith
OLLIE WRIDE does look set to become synthwave’s first crossover star don’t you think?
Yes, he is a true musical legend in the making and quite frankly, one of the best singer songwriters I’ve ever come across personally. Even Thomas Dolby rates him highly. I think he has already solidified his image as the Prince of Synth within the synthwave community, but I also think he has that star quality and work ethic to stand up next to (and even show up?) Brandon Flowers at Coachella for example. His work as a frontman on stage is second to none and there’s no wonder we’ve seen comparisons to performances from artists like Freddie Mercury, Michael Hutchence, Billy Idol and even Tina Turner. His shows in London and Glasgow in April are going to be next level.
Taylor Swift has been borrowing from CHVRCHES, do you think she will go synthwave next?
It appears a few mainstream artists are borrowing, intentionally or unintentionally from the synthwave aesthetic, both in music and art. Though CHVRCHES don’t define themselves as synthwave and neither does Taylor Swift, her latest album definitely exudes touches of synthwave. ‘The Archer’ could be mistaken for a NINA song, but then 2015’s ‘Style’ is baked in a synthwave / outrun soundscape, so she has been at it for some time now.
Is it intentional or is it just that vintage synthesizers like the Roland Juno60 are coming back into fashion? Does a track with an 80s synth bass arpeggio make it synthwave? Our backline provider was saying that in the last few years he has seen a tremendous increase in hire of early 80s analogue synths. Artists like JAI WOLF and THE WEEKND are all experimenting with synthwave soundscapes but it remains to be seen whether that’s intentional or not.
It’s a well-known fact that many mainstream artists worth their salt keep their nose firmly on the underground and emerging fads to incorporate into their own. Take MUSE for example – their album ‘Simulation Theory’ is steeped in synth and retrowave visual aesthetic and there’s no bones about it that they enjoy the genre – KALAX’s song ‘Levitate’ was used as an outro on their 36-date ‘Simulation Theory’ World Tour! THE BLACK EYED PEAS went full tilt synthwave / outrun visual aesthetic recently, but don’t even get me started on that! *laughs*
What were your thoughts on ‘The Rise Of The Synths’ film?
I thought it was an absolute wonder work and a fantastic representation of the roots of modern synthwave. The documentary might have included a few more active and current players and artists within the scene, but when we consider that the project was over five years in the making, it’s still a well-rounded presentation. It started out as a crowd funding effort and as we know, sometimes those things don’t pan out well for anyone. But kudos to the team for sticking it out and delivering on their promises. I think it’s a well-produced and perfect introduction to synthwave and I would love to see it placed on Amazon Prime or Netflix someday soon.
Talking of films, are you looking forward to ‘Kung Fury 2’?
Absolutely. We tend to include retro films in our annual city-series events – ‘Turbo Kid’ was screened in Toronto and ‘Kung Fury’ featured at Outland Glasgow 2018. If ‘Kung Fury 2’ is anything like the original short film, then we’re in for some more of the same absurdity and martial arts hilarity from the upcoming release. Throw in Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender this time around – what could go wrong!
Are there any other plans in the pipeline that you can tell The Electricity Club about?
Well we have another one of TEC’s favourite boat parties is happening in London on 1st August and we’re also working on the next city series event, with our eye on the US around September / October. We’re also booking agent for FM ATTACK, NEW ARCADES and MORGAN WILLIS, so they’ll be performing quite a bit this year. I work closely with OLLIE WRIDE’s agents in a management capacity and there are some exciting things planned there.
As for the label, we have a few more releases and continued work around our current roster artists, as well as an exciting release of a new mobile retro-inspired driving game called ‘Retro Drive’, available on iOS this Summer. We’ve partnered with the developers and will be licensing some exclusive synthwave and outrun belters for the game, which will later be released as a compilation album.
In closing, I would just like to say a big thank you for the support that The Electricity Club have shown for us at Outland and for giving synthwave a new voice – we look forward to seeing your readers at our shows. x
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Stuart McLaren at Outland
‘Retrowave D’Luxe’ presented by Outland takes place on Saturday 17th October 2020 at Gigi’s Hoxton Underbelly in London featuring JORDAN F, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, HIGHWAY SUPERSTAR, NEW ARCADES, DUETT + L’AVENUE – tickets available direct from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/495994
Further information on upcoming Outland events such as the OLLIE WRIDE concerts and the Sunset Neon Cruise 2020 can be found at https://www.weloveoutland.com/
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.
That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…
MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.
Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.
It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.
This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.
Artwork by Heloisa Flores
The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.
It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉