Tag: David Sylvian (Page 2 of 2)

A Beginner’s Guide To CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN

act_claudiaWith her distinctive ice maiden delivery, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN is the undoubted queen of cinematic avant pop.

She first came to prominence with PROPAGANDA and the Trevor Horn produced film noir drama of ‘Dr Mabuse’.

Together with Susanne Freytag, Michael Mertens and Ralf Dörper, the Düsseldorf based quartet released their acclaimed album ‘A Secret Wish’ on ZTT in 1985.

But despite the album being a favourite of musical figures such as Quincy Jones, Martin Gore, John Taylor and Jim Kerr, PROPAGANDA split following business and creative tensions as a result of their deal with ZTT.

Remaining with ZTT, Brücken formed ACT with early electronic pioneer Thomas Leer and released an album ‘Laughter Tears & Rage’ in 1988 which featured an array of lush synthetic dynamics glossed with a touch of starlet glamour. Not one to rest on her laurels, her first solo album ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ came in 1991 on Island Records before she took a career break.

There was a brief reunion of PROPAGANDA in 1998, but when that came to nought, Brücken spent much of the new millennium’s first decade working and touring with OMD’s Paul Humphreys in ONETWO, supporting ERASURE and THE HUMAN LEAGUE along the way.

Since then, she has released two further solo albums and more recently been spotted in the studio with Susanne Freytag and Stephen J Lipson, while a new collaborative project with Jerome Froese is also in progress.

Although her catalogue is wide and varied, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN is perhaps still very much regarded as a cult figure on the music scene. Certainly, she deserves greater recognition so with a restriction of one track per release, The Electricity Club offers a twenty track Beginner’s Guide to her work…

TOPOLINOS Mustafa (1982)

TOPOLINOSBrücken and Freytag first met in Düsseldorf around Die Ratinger Straße; “There was this interaction between art and music happening and everyone kind of knew one another” she said. Together they formed TOPOLINOS, literally translated as ‘The Mickey Mouses’! Using a rhythm unit, electric organ lines and Middle Eastern flavoured vocal phrasing, ‘Mustafa’ was a typical art school recording of the period and appeared on ‘Partysnäks’, the soundtrack to the film ‘Die Tanzbeinsammler’.

Available on the compilation album Electri_City 2 (V/A) via Grönland Records

PROPAGANDA p: Machinery (1985)

Propaganda ‎– pMachineryAt the suggestion of Freytag, Brücken was recruited into PROPAGANDA and their dynamic sound was marketed as “ABBA in Hell”! p: Machinery captured their Teutonic edge and the charm of state-of-the-art technology such as the PPG Wave and Synclavier systems. Produced by Stephen J Lipson, the song also had an unexpected contributor as Brücken recalled: “It was amazing when David Sylvian came in. On ‘p: Machinery there is this line he wrote on a little keyboard that he brought in…”

Available on the PROPAGANDA album ‘A Secret Wish’ via Union Square

GLENN GREGORY & CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN When Your Heart Runs Out Of Time (1985)

Glenn+Claudia When Your HeartWritten by Will Jennings, best known for ‘My Heart Will Go On’ for the film ‘Titanic’ and ‘Up Where We Belong’ from ‘An Officer & A Gentleman’, ‘When Your Heart Runs Out of Time’ was recorded for the film ‘Insignificance’ directed by Nicolas Roeg. Brücken and the HEAVEN 17 vocalist met during the Anton Corbijn directed video shoot for ‘Dr Mabuse’ when Gregory’s then-wife Sarah was doing the make-up. The song was produced by Midge Ure, under the pseudonym of Otto Flake Junior.

Available on the compilation album ‘The Art Of The 12 Inch’ (V/A) via Union Square

ACT Absolutely Immune (1988)

ACT Absolutely ImmuneAfter PROPAGANDA fragmented, Brücken formed ACT with Thomas Leer in 1987. Working again with Stephen J Lipson, alongside the technological marvels came a more playful, decadent glamour with some political flirtations. ‘Absolutely Immune’ was a commentary on the apathy of the nation at large with its “I’m alright Jack” selfishness. Unfortunately, with the sentiment lost on a British public still drowned in blue emotion, it failed to gain interest in a landscape dominated by the bland blue eyed soul.

Available on the ACT album ‘Love & Hate’ via Union Square

JIMMY SOMERVILLE Run From Love (1990)

jimmy_somerville-the_singles_collection_1984-1990While not a sales success, the acclaim and respect that ‘A Secret Wish’ attained among fellow artists led to Brücken being offered many opportunities to collaborate. One of the first came from Jimmy Somerville. ‘Run From Love’ was a lesser known BRONSKI BEAT number reworked in a more house directed fashion by S’EXPRESS producer Pascal Gabriel for the diminutive Glaswegian’s greatest hits collection and Ms Brücken provided backing vocals in the chorus.

Available on the JIMMY SOMMERVILLE album ‘The Singles Collection 1984/1990’ via London Records

CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Absolut[e] (1991)

Claudia Brucken Absolut(E)Despite ACT ending, Brücken signed a deal with Island Records which eventually spawned her debut solo album produced by Pascal Gabriel. The first single ‘Absolut[e]’ was very much dominated by Gabriel’s dancefloor instincts. But as the album was being recorded, all was not well within. “The MD from Island suddenly left and all the people who worked on my album left as well” she remembered, “A new guy came in and already I could sense what would happen, so Pascal and I decided to get really experimental”.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ via Cherry Red Records

CHROME SEDUCTION Light The Way (1993)

Claudia+SusanneThe reaction to ‘Love: & A Million Other Things’ was muted and Brücken took a career break to bring up her daughter Maddy, emerging only occasionally to record the odd guest vocal. ‘Light The Way’ with CHROME SEDUCTION was a percussively frantic club number that also saw a reunion with former partner-in-crime Susanne Freytag. The project of Magnus Fiennes, brother of actors Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes, it first surfaced on an independently released 12 inch on Mother Alpha Delta.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined’ via Union Square

THE BRAIN I’ll Find A Way (1996)

THE BRAIN I'll Find A WayThe project of Düsseldorf based DJ Dietmar Andreas Maier, ‘I’ll Find A Way’ was typical of the frantically paced Euro-Trance of the period. Co-written with Michael Mertens, the seed of a PROPAGANDA reunion began with a number of songs including ‘Ignorance’, ‘No Return’, ‘To The Future’ and ‘Turn To The Sun’ being demoed. Although a video for ‘No Return’ was produced, the title proved poignant and Brücken later announced: “The reunion was worth a try, but did not work out.”

Available on THE BRAIN single ‘I’ll Find A Way’ via BMG

OCEANHEAD Eyemotion (1997)

OCEANHEAD EyemotionContinuing to contribute the occasional guest vocal, ‘Eyemotion’ was a co-write with John Etkin-Bell which coupled a shuffling drum loop with some beautifully chilled out atmospheres. Brücken’s breathy whispers and a muted synthetic brass motif à la PET SHOP BOYS provided the colourful sonics on an elegant piece of downtempo electronica. Blowing away the likes of ENIGMA and SACRED SPIRIT, the original CD single release was limited to just 2000 copies however.

Available on the OCEANHEAD single ‘Eyemotion’ via Land Speed Records

CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & PAUL RUTHERFORD This Is Not America (2000 – not released until 2011)

After the aborted reunion of PROPAGANDA, Brücken accepted an invitation in 2000 to join Paul Humphreys on his solo tour of the USA; one of the first recorded fruits of their partnership was a cover of ‘This Is Not America’ featuring FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s Paul Rutherford intended for a film soundtrack. A beautifully crafted synthesized tribute to DAVID BOWIE & THE PAT METHENY GROUP, although shelved, it finally saw the light of day on her ‘ComBined’ career retrospective.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘ComBined’ via Union Square

APOPTYGMA BERZERK Unicorn – Duet Version (2002)

APOPTYGMA BERZERK HarmonizerEurope maintained a vibrant industrial music scene at the start of the new century and in a one-off collaboration with Norway’s cult electronic body merchants APOPTYGMA BERZERK, Brücken returned to the more Teutonic overtones that had been evident in PROPAGANDA. In an electronic rework of the heavier guitar focussed original, the combo provided a suitably aggressive but accessible backing track for her to duet with frontman Stephan Groth on ‘Unicorn’.

Available on the APOPTYGMA BERZERK album ‘Harmonizer’ via WEA

ONETWO Cloud 9ine (2004)

ONETWO ItemBrücken formalised her musical partnership with Paul Humphreys and together they named themselves ONETWO. They dusted off a track that had been demoed during the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion. The song in question was ‘Cloud 9ine’, a co-write with Martin Gore which also featured the guitar of DEPECHE MODE’s main songwriter. It was the stand-out song on ONETWO’s debut EP ‘Item’, but it would be a few years before their first album would be completed.

Available on the ONETWO EP ‘Item’ via There (there) at https://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/item

ANDY BELL with CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Delicious (2005)

ANDY BELL Electric BlueBrücken joined ERASURE’s Andy Bell to sing on two tracks for his debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’. More club oriented than ERASURE, the long player was produced by THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE who were also part of the ONETWO live band, and provided the introduction. The call-and-response Hi-NRG stomp of ‘Delicious’ saw Brücken in her most playful mood since ACT and in rare poptastic glory, despite the bittersweet, reflective lyrical nature of the song.

Available on the ANDY BELL album ‘Electric Blue’ via Sanctuary Records


ANOTHER LANGUAGEBrücken teamed up with former ZTT label mate Poppy to record a number of stripped back cover versions, with just piano or guitar as accompaniment for her first long form release since 1991. Among the reinterpretations were songs originally performed by RADIOHEAD, MARIANNE FAITHFUL, ASSOCIATES and KATE BUSH. One of the highlights was a suitably dramatic take on ‘Libertango’, better known as ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before’ made famous by GRACE JONES.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN & ANDREW POPPY album ‘Another Language’ via There (there) at http://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/another-language

ONETWO Anonymous (2007)

Onetwo_InsteadHumphreys and Brücken finally released a full length album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet fully rejoined McCluskey in his old band.

Available on the ONETWO album ‘Instead’ via There (there) at https://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/instead

BLANK & JONES Don’t Stop (2008)

BLANK & JONES The Logic of PleasureIn between the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and ONETWO, CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN guested with the popular German dance duo on ‘Unknown Treasure’, a most gorgeously shuffled electrobeat ballad. The parties reunited in 2008 but while ‘Unknown Treasure’ was in Brücken’s words, “a real collaboration”, “’Don’t Stop’ was in reverse, they gave me all the music and then I did the words and sent it back to them”. Despite the remote detachment of the recording, ‘Don’t Stop’ was still elegantly enticing.

Available on the BLANK & JONES album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’ via Soundcolours


=LA NoireRockstar Games wanted a German singer for a new game called ‘LA Noire’ soundtracked by THE REAL TUESDAY WELD’s Stephen Coates who was known for producing jazzy cabaret-style music with subtle electronica influences dubbed Antique Beat. “I thought: why not?” said Brücken, “I heard the songs and thought they were so beautiful. I found it a really good challenge doing something I hadn’t done before”. ‘The Things I Love’ was the alluring highlight of three songs recorded.

Available on the soundtrack album ‘L.A. Noire’ (V/A) via Rockstar Games

CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN One Summer Dream (2012)

Claudia Brucken One Summer DreamThe B-side to ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA’s massive hit ‘Mr Blue Sky’, ‘One Summer Dream’ was the first song to emerge from Brücken’s reinterpretations project with producer Stephen Hague which also included material by DAVID BOWIE, PET SHOP BOYS, DUBSTAR, JULEE CRUISE and THE LILAC TIME. Beginning with a vintage gramophoned segment, it built to a dreamy John Barry influenced, ‘Felt Mountain’-era GOLDFRAPP string arrangement.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘The Lost Are Found’ via There (there)

OMD Kissing The Machine (2013)

OMD-English-ElectricAlthough this Andy McCluskey / Karl Bartos co-write first appeared in 1993 on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’, Paul Humphreys completely reworked ‘Kissing The Machine’ from scratch for OMD. “Paul had the idea of asking Claudia to do the vocal in the middle eight” remembered McCluskey, “but I suggested we start it with the ‘I want you to want me – I need you to need me…’ bit through a vocoder and went ‘y’know, could you ask Claudia to do it in German as well?’!” The result was electronic magic.

Available on the OMD album ‘English Electric’ via BMG

CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Time To Make Changes (2014)

CLAUDIA BRUCKEN Where ElseThe biggest surprise musically on Brücken’s third solo album ‘Where Else…’ was her adoption of the acoustic guitar. Working with producer John Owen Williams whose credits also included BLANCMANGE, the songs dealt with the subjects of “emotion, beginnings, endings, past life and future hopes”. Almost like ABBA meeting MORRISSEY in a lush organic backdrop, ‘Time To Make Changes’ very much reflected her personal mindset following the end of her relationship with Paul Humphreys.

Available on the CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN album ‘Where Else…’ via Cherry Red Records

For further information on the upcoming projects of CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN, please visit her official website and Facebook page



Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th July 2016

A Beginner’s Guide To JAPAN

Although their recorded output covered just over four years, JAPAN are one of the most acclaimed bands from the period many have called the New Romantic era.

DURAN DURAN undoubtedly owe a debt to JAPAN’s arty aspirational poise, while bassist Mick Karn had a playing style that would later be replicated in the music of TALK TALK, ULTRAVOX, GARY NUMAN, CHINA CRISIS, NICK HEYWARD and PAUL YOUNG.

Meanwhile, enigmatic and moody front man David Sylvian was the ultimate pin-up for that flamboyant period, but subsequently developed a solo career with parallels to Scott Walker, proving that there was life after pretty boy pop stardom.

Hailing from Catford in South London, it all began as a three piece comprising of school friends David Batt and Andonis Michaelides plus Batt’s younger brother Steve on drums. The older Batt had been wearing make up as a form of “passive confrontation” while Michaelides, who was similarly confrontational, played bassoon in the school orchestra before taking up bass guitar. They were to eventually change their names to the more aesthetically pleasing David Sylvian, Mick Karn and Steve Jansen.

Adopting the moniker JAPAN, after a number of gigs in 1975, they recruited keyboardist Richard Barbieri and Hackney based guitarist Rob Dean to the line-up.

Developing an aggressive funk laden glam rock sound with a straggly image not dissimilar to NEW YORK DOLLS, the band soon caught the attention of Simon Napier-Bell who had previously managed THE YARDBIRDS and JOHN’S CHILDREN featuring a pre-fame Marc Bolan. He saw Sylvian as “a cross between Mick Jagger and Brigitte Bardot” and offered him a solo management deal.

Sylvian declined, but convinced he had a major star on his hands, Napier-Bell signed the whole group. In 1977, Napier-Bell entered JAPAN in a talent contest held by Ariola Hansa, the German label that had steered BONEY M to great success. The winners were the band who would become THE CURE, but JAPAN were also offered a recording contract despite coming second.

The debut album ‘Adolescent Sex’ was released in April 1978 and while it achieved little impact in Britain, it was a surprise success with teenage girls in the country of Japan. UK critics were quick to accuse the band of cynically choosing their name purely to crack the Japanese market, but as Mick Karn pointed out to Smash Hits in Autumn 1981: “I can’t imagine a Japanese band called ENGLAND doing very well over here!”

Despite the success in Japan, the band could make no headway either back home or the US. In fact, when the quintet did a New York record store signing session in November 1978, nobody turned up! This incident was later sent up in a scene for the spoof rockumentary ‘This Is Spinal Tap’… a copy of ‘Quiet Life’ is in view behind Messrs St Hubbins, Tufnel and Smalls as if to make the point!

Japan & MoroderJAPAN’s success in Japan led to the band’s exposure to South East Asian culture and its fascination with modern technology.

This began to have an effect on the music and the band started to mellow, adopting the more mannered textures of ROXY MUSIC and electronic prowess of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA. This new direction led to the recording of ‘Life In Tokyo’ with Giorgio Moroder in April 1979.

Their look also changed with stylish suits, heavier make-up and shorter hair very much in evidence for an effeminate demeanour similar to the New Romantics who were now frequenting The Blitz Club. To exploit this unexpected fashion synchronicity, Simon Napier-Bell concocted a number of dubious stunts in the name of promotion. One was an announcement that Sylvian had been voted ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Man’… but it was a pretty one sided as the contest was the work of Napier-Bell and JAPAN’s publicist Connie Filapello!

Following the release of their third album ‘Quiet Life’ in January 1980, JAPAN started to gain the respect of the serious Japanese music press who had previously turned its nose up at their teenybop audience. Ryuichi Sakamoto of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA met Sylvian during the subsequent tour, resulting in their first collaboration ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ on the next album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and a long standing friendship.

up-3japanRichard Barbieri was also seriously getting into technology with the Roland System 700, ARP Omni, Oberheim OBX, Micromoog, Polymoog, Roland Jupiter 4 and Sequential Prophet 5 among the synths used on the album. But steadily, Sylvian was taking more control of proceedings, a stance that would ultimately make and break the band.

JAPAN decamped to Virgin Records and reached No60 in the UK singles charts with an edit of the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ title track.

This should have been considered promising, although much more was expected by their new label. The UK was still not yet totally ready for the suave melancholy muzak of David Sylvian and co. But momentum was building and one party that noticed was JAPAN’s former label Ariola Hansa. In Autumn 1981, they cashed-in with the release of the ‘Quiet Life’ song as a single which reached No17 in the UK charts.

For JAPAN’s fifth album in November 1981, the band took the influences of the Far East even further with the Chinese flavoured ‘Tin Drum’. It was to be the band’s biggest UK success, both commercially and critically.

But all was not well within the band. Rob Dean had already left prior to the recording of ‘Tin Drum’, while frustrations about publishing and personal differences came to a head when Karn’s girlfriend, photographer Yuka Fujii moved in with Sylvian on the eve of their UK tour. Tensions boiled over and led to the various individual band members undertaking their own projects in 1982 while JAPAN was put on hiatus.


Despite this, JAPAN became chart regulars in 1982, notching up a further six Top40 singles including a surprise Top5 hit in ‘Ghosts’. As a result, a world tour was pencilled in for the end of the year. Although the majority of the shows were sell-outs, the band called it a day with a final performance in Nagoya, Japan on 16th December 1982.

Sylvian and Karn continued their solo careers as well as collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Midge Ure respectively. Meanwhile Jansen and Barbieri worked with both their former bandmates, and together as THE DOLPHIN BROTHERS.

RAIN TREE CROWBy 1987, relations had thawed enough between Sylvian and Karn for them to record two tracks together for the latter’s second solo album ‘Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters’. So in 1989 with wounds largely healed, the quartet gathered together at Studio Miraval in France for what many considered to be a JAPAN reunion in all but name.

Under the Sylvian inspired Native American moniker RAIN TREE CROW, the idea had been to compose and record as a group through improvisation, as opposed Sylvian being sole songwriter and studio dictator which had previously been the case during the JAPAN days. However, Sylvian’s stubborn imposing character led to a return to old ways and a major falling out with his band mates.

Jansen, Barbieri and Karn formed a new project JBK and in 1993, founded Medium Productions as a platform to release their work free from label interference. But the quartet that comprised JAPAN would never work together again and with Mick Karn’s sad passing in January 2011, never will.

japan1981One of the reasons JAPAN are perhaps still held in high regard is partly due to their artistic legacy not being exploited on the nostalgia circuit.

Even when performing live in their various incarnations, JAPAN material has been notable by its absence, other than JBK’s occasional renditions of the B-side ‘Life Without Buildings’ and Sylvian’s neo-acoustic airings of ‘The Other Side Of Life’, ‘Nightporter’ and ’Ghosts’.

With so much material recorded, what tracks would act as a beginner’s guide to JAPAN and its many offshoots? After much deliberation and leaving out the collaborations with Midge Ure and members of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA which have been documented elsewhere on the site, The Electricity Club brings you its twenty choices, with a restriction of one track per album or EP, to tell a rather complex story…

Dedicated to the memory of MICK KARN 1958-2011

JAPAN Communist China (1978)

japan adolescent sexUnusually for a new British band, JAPAN achieved major success in Japan. Playing to packed houses of screaming teenage girls at big venues such as Tokyo’s Budokan, back in Britain they could barely fill pubs and were pelted with missiles while supporting BLUE OYSTER CULT at Hammersmith Odeon. ‘Communist China’ can now be considered a pivotal track in hindsight, not only because of the eventual title subject inspiring most of ‘Tin Drum’ but Sylvian’s impending croon appears for the first time.

But quite what “pumping, pumping and resisting – inserting love into you” has to do with Chairman Mao’s regime is anyone’s guess!

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Music


JAPAN Life In Tokyo (1979)

japan-life-in-tokyoThe band briefly worked with Giorgio Moroder, who co-wrote and produced a one-off single ‘Life in Tokyo’. The bridge between growly funk-rock JAPAN and the more familiar, mannered and artier version of the group, David Sylvian had originally submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles, but it was rejected by Moroder. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision.

With JAPAN’s developing synthesized sound, it was a significant change in musical style that was to set the tone for the band’s future direction.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘The Very Best Of’ via Virgin Records


JAPAN Halloween (1980)

japan-quietlifeBy their third album ‘Quiet Life’, the electronically assisted template showcased on ‘Life In Tokyo’ was in full swing, with David Sylvian’s taking on a more Ferry-ish baritone style of singing and Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass pushed right up to the front. The sound of the fretless would soon become ubiquitous in the mainstream. Despite Rob Dean’s guitar becoming more textural thanks to some E-bowed embellishments, the band could still snarl with some aggressive tension.

‘Halloween’ was an eerie uptempo tune about the rise of East European communism following the end of the Second World War.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Quiet Life’ via Sony BMG Music


JAPAN Obscure Alternatives – Live In Japan (1980)

Live In JapanWhile ‘Quiet Life’ was met with apathy back home, the album was to become JAPAN’s biggest album yet in The Land of the Rising Sun. With this success came even bigger shows. To document the tour, a live EP was recorded in Tokyo featuring three songs that originally came from the second album ‘Obscure Alternatives’. These featured completely new arrangements using Sylvian’s revised singing style plus the addition of guest musician Jane Shorter on saxophone.

With Steve Jansen’s intricate and colourful percussion work over a reggae inflicted backbone, the song ‘Obscure Alternatives’ attained a moodier gravitas while the climax was enhanced by a blasting sax break in the manner of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Money’.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Obscure Alternatives’ via Sony BMG Music


JAPAN Nightporter (1980)

japan-gentlemen-takeThe ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ sessions were particularly fraught with Sylvian getting increasingly confident and fighting with producer John Punter. By now, he was also writing on keyboards instead of guitar. This led to the exclusion of some band members from the recording process, particularly Rob Dean who ended up playing on just four tracks. But Sylvian was aiming for a sparser sound and this was achieved with the mournful Erik Satie influenced ‘Nightporter’.

Featuring just Sylvian and Barbieri with session musicians Barry Guy on string bass and Andrew Cauthery on oboe, it was to prove to be a pivotal track. But the quintet were falling apart and the first to leave was Rob Dean.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ via Virgin Records


JAPAN Cantonese Boy (1981)

japan-tin drumJAPAN’s slimmed down four piece line-up was reflected on ‘Tin Drum’. There was hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX and Prophet 5. While Mick Karn was becoming slightly more isolated having not played on ‘Ghosts’, he still provided some memorable bass runs. The lyrical themes flirted with Chinese Communism as Brian Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’, with Sylvian appearing to be taking inspiration from the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao.

Produced by Steve Nye, the acoustic sounding synth derived overtones of ‘Tin Drum’ were a masterclass in keyboard programming, as exemplified by ‘Cantonese Boy’.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Tin Drum’ via Virgin Records


MICK KARN The Sound Of Waves (1982)

Karn SensitiveWhen the individual members of JAPAN started undertaking solo projects, first blood went to Mick Karn. However, his debut solo single was a disappointment. Produced by Ricky Wilde, ‘Sensitive’ was a bass heavy cover of Brazilian singer and composer Roberto Carlos’ ‘La Distancia’, but with new English lyrics. Reactions were muted, but much better was the atmospherically textural B-side ‘The Sound Of Waves’, a marvellously cinematic instrumental.

Showing off the unique melodic prowess of Karn’s fretless work, he could have gone on to have a lucrative career as a session musician. But he chose not to, leaving that opportunity as an open goal for a certain Pino Palladino.

Available on the MICK KARN album ‘Titles’ via Virgin Records


DALIS CAR The Judgement Is The Mirror (1984)

dalis_car_waking hourWith goth rockers BAUHAUS now having split, their charismatic vocalist Peter Murphy was in need of a new musical partner. He found a willing conspirator in Mick Karn. Named after a CAPTAIN BEEFHEART song on ‘Trout Mask Replica’, the pair set about recording a seven track album by sending tapes back and forth to each other while communicating via answerphone! Other than the rhythms constructed by Peter Vincent Lawford, Murphy and Karn each worked alone.

‘The Judgement Is The Mirror’ certainly showcased the artier pretences that DALIS CAR aspired to, although the reaction to this unique Middle Eastern flavoured aural sculpture from critics and fans was somewhat mixed.

Available on the DALIS CAR album ‘The Waking Hour’ via Beggars Banquet Records


DAVID SYLVIAN Weathered Wall (1984)

david_sylvian_brilliant_treesFollowing the disbandment of JAPAN, Sylvian’s style became even more esoteric and while his JAPAN days saw him aping Bryan Ferry, musically he was now leaning more towards that other key ROXY MUSIC member Brian Eno. This came to its zenith with ‘Weathered Wall’, a track which took its lead from ‘Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics’, Eno’s collaboration with the avant garde trumpeter Jon Hassell. For added authenticity, Sylvian even recruited the American into the collaborative process.

The haunting track also featured Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, Ryuichi Sakamoto and the abstract dictaphone of CAN’s Holger Czukay.

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN album ‘Brilliant Trees’ via Virgin Records


MICK KARN featuring DAVID SYLVIAN Buoy (1987)

MICK KARN BuoyThere were signs that Sylvian and Karn were beginning to move towards a reconciliation when all four former JAPAN members were photographed together at the reception of Sylvian’s ‘Perspectives’ polaroid montage exhibition in 1984. Recorded for Karn’s second album ‘Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters’, ‘Buoy’ was his and Sylvian’s second joint composition after ‘Sons Of Pioneers’ from ‘Tin Drum’. The album featured another Sylvian lead vocal on ‘When Love Walks In’.

With both tracks also featuring Steve Jansen, it fuelled excitement that JAPAN might finally reform… close but no cigar!

Available on the MICK KARN album ‘Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters’ via Virgin Records


DAVID SYLVIAN Pop Song (1989)

david_sylvian_pop_songSylvian’s 1987 opus ‘Secrets Of The Beehive’ featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto had a much more acoustic flavour and much to Virgin’s disdain, the album had failed to yield any hits. So the label started putting pressure on him to write a pop song. True to Sylvian’s belligerent manner, he responded by writing a very unorthodox, atonal electronic number with influences drawn from maverick composer John Cage. “Each weekend beckoned like Ulysses’s sirens” he pondered…

With noted jazz pianist John Taylor and Steve Jansen’s hesitant offbeat rhythms also thrown in the avant mix, ‘Pop Song’ wasn’t perhaps quite what Virgin had been hoping for!

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN album ‘A Victim of Stars 1982-2012’ via Virgin Records



david_sylvian_holger_czukay_flux_mutabilityDavid Sylvian expanded his partnership with Holger Czukay, which had first started on ‘Brilliant Trees’ and continued on the ‘Words With The Shaman’ EP, with two ethereal ambient long players ‘Plight & Premonition’ and ‘Flux & Mutability’. Recorded at CAN’s 220 square metre Inner Space Studio near Cologne, Czukay introduced Sylvian to a variety of expansive loop and pre-recorded radio techniques that could be used in more freeform improvisation.

From the second of their album collaborations, the 17 minute ‘Flux’ notably featured Jaki Liebezeit providing a subtle percussive template and Michael Karoli sound painting with his guitar. The track also featured Markus Stockhausen, son of the electronic pioneer Karl-Heinz on flugelhorn.

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN & HOLGER CZUKAY album ‘Plight & Premonition / Flux & Mutability’ via Grönland Records


RAIN TREE CROW Blackwater (1991)

rain_tree_crow_blackwaterLargely perceived to be a JAPAN reformation, the RAIN TREE CROW project was supported by a huge budget from Virgin Records, but it was exceeded. So Virgin gave the quartet an ultimatum where no more money would be forthcoming unless the project was presented under the name of JAPAN. Karn, Jansen and Barbieri agreed but Sylvian refused. Sylvian then walked off with the tapes to mix the album under his own finance and supervision, without any of his bandmates present!

A rift ensued and the result was a disappointing collection of progressive avant jazz and self-indulgent ethnic instrumental pieces. Only the magnificent single ‘Blackwater’ bore any kind of relation to JAPAN’s brilliant legacy.

Available on the RAIN TREE CROW album ‘Rain Tree Crow’ via Virgin Records



david_sylvian_robert_fripp_darshanHaving worked successfully together on Sylvian’s second solo album ‘Gone To Earth’, a further collaboration between Sylvian and the former KING CRIMSON guitarist was always in the offing. With Trey Gunn as silent partner on Chapman Stick, the trio procured a set of grooves which allowed Fripp free to experiment with his distinctive Frippertronics while Sylvian added his thoughtful lyricism. ‘Darshan’ was a funk laden rock out that never became boring despite its 17 minute length.

Driven by an incessant drum loop, it was a trip “kneeling on the road to Graceland”. Indeed, when the atmospheric synths made their presence felt, it sounded rather like THE STONE ROSES jamming over ‘Ghosts’!

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN & ROBERT FRIPP album ‘The First Day’ via Virgin Records


STEVE JANSEN & RICHARD BARBIERI Sleepers Awake – Live at The Milky Way (1997)

Jansen Barbieri Milky Way cassetteAlready a fabulously progressive instrumental from the ‘Stone To Flesh’ album, this mightily spirited live rendition of ‘Sleepers Awake’ was recorded at Amsterdam’s Melkweg in November 1996 for Dutch Magazine OOR’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

Bolstered by the appearance of Mick Karn and guitarist Steven Wilson who Barbieri had been working with since 1993 in PORCUPINE TREE, the concert was never intended for release. But Jansen and Barbieri found that the direct-to-desk recording possessed a special quality that brought the tracks to life. So it was released by Medium Productions as a limited edition of 500 cassettes entitled ‘Live At The Milky Way’. In 2015, the recording was reissued under the title of ‘Lumen’.

Available on the STEVE JANSEN & RICHARD BARBIERI EP ‘Lumen’ via KScope


DAVID SYLVIAN & JAPAN Some Kind Of Fool (2000)

David-Sylvian-Everything-and-NothingAlthough there have been demos recorded for Ariola Hansa like the hilarious ‘Body Rhythm’ from 1977 and the cheerful ‘Can’t Get Enough’ from 1979, very little unreleased JAPAN material has remained in the Virgin vaults. But one song was the lengthy orchestral laden ballad ‘Some Kind Of Fool’. Intended for inclusion on ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, it was replaced by ‘Burning Bridges’. ‘Some Kind Of Fool’ was then scheduled for release as a single in 1982, but was pulled for a Steve Nye remix of ‘Nightporter’.

However, for his 2000 career retrospective ‘Everything & Nothing’, Sylvian decided to include this lost JAPAN number. But ever the tinkerer, he re-recorded the vocals with his wife Ingrid Chavez and added several overdubs. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the original JAPAN version has yet to see the light of day.

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN album ‘Everything & Nothing’ via Virgin Records


DAVID SYLVIAN A Fire In The Forest (2003)

david_sylvian_blemishSylvian’s long relationship with Virgin came to an end in 2003, prompting him to launch his own label Samadhisound. Uncompromising from the start, his first independently released solo album was ‘Blemish’. Exploring a more unconventional style of composition with free jazz guitarist Derek Bailey and ambient exponent Christian Fennesz, the album was built around simple six string improvisations. Intensely minimal, the album documented the end of his relationship with Ingrid Chavez.

It was a challenging listen. However, possibly the most accessible track on the album was the emotive closer ‘A Fire In The Forest’ with its haunting electronica backbone constructed by Fennesz.

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN album ‘Blemish’ via Samadhisound


NINE HORSES Serotonin (2005)

nine_horses_snow_borne_sorrowNINE HORSES were an electronic ensemble featuring Sylvian, Jansen and German producer Burnt Friedman. The project was fundamentally more immediate and less stripped down than ‘Blemish’, with programmed beats and livelier tempos also part of the equation. The resulting ‘Snow Borne Sorrow’ album also included Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen, Swedish vocalist Stina Nordenstam and the always dependable Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano.

The excellent ‘Serotonin’ featured the clarinet of Hayden Chisholm over Jansen’s jazzy, almost danceable groove in unison with Friedman’s spacey electronics and Daniel Schroeter’s subtle bass runs.

Available on the NINE HORSES album ‘Snow Borne Sorrow’ via Samadhisound


STEVE JANSEN Featuring DAVID SYLVIAN Playground Martyrs (2007)

Steve Jansen - SlopeSteve Jansen’s first solo album ‘Slope’, with its fabulous artwork using cardboard music instruments constructed by Dan McPharlin, explored various electronic soundscapes held together using “unrelated sounds, music samples, rhythms and events”. Despite Jansen already having proved himself as a competent singer in THE DOLPHIN BROTHERS and JBK, ‘Slope’ was noted for including a number of guest vocalists including Joan Wasser and Anja Garbarek.

Originally issued on Sylvian’s Samadhisound, Jansen’s older brother also lent his voice to the sparse, piano laden beauty of ‘Playground Martyrs’.

Available on the STEVE JANSEN album ‘Slope’ via https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/album/slope


DALIS CAR If You Go Away (2012)

Dalis Car ingladalonenessIn August 2010, Peter Murphy announced he and Karn were working on the second DALIS CAR album. However, the project was cut short when Karn was diagnosed with cancer. He sadly passed away on 4th January 2011. To commemorate what would have been Karn’s 53rd birthday on 24th July 2011, ‘Artemis Rise’ was posthumously issued as a download. A rework of the instrumental ‘Artemis’ from ‘The Waking Hour’, it featured added vocals from Murphy and drums by Steve Jansen.

The four tracks that had already been recorded were later mixed by Jansen and released as an EP entitled ‘InGladAloneness’. Closing it was the poignant, sad cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’. It was a fitting, solemn farewell to Karn.

Available on the DALIS CAR EP ‘InGladAloneness’ via KScope


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to John Bambury and Paul Rymer
8th July 2015, updated 1st November 2018


Yellow+Magic+Orchestra+ymoWhen YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA formed in 1978, it was intended to be a one-off project for producer / bassist Haruomi Hosono and the two session musicians he had hired: drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Prior to the group’s formation, the classically trained Sakamoto had experimented with electronic music at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Hosono had been involved in the recording of several early electronic rock records in Japan.

Meanwhile, Takahashi was in THE SADISTIC MIKA BAND, a prog outfit who were signed to PINK FLOYD’s label Harvest and had appeared on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. Hosono began formulating the idea of an instrumental disco band which could have the potential to succeed internationally. The format was formally defined when Sakamoto introduced the music of KRAFTWERK to the other two.

KRAFTWERK’s artistic outlook, along with acts such as TANGERINE DREAM, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF had helped restore a sense of Germanic identity in reaction to the Americanisation of European post-war culture. The trio were feeling this was needed in Japan too, so they endeavoured to make something very original using electronics. As Sakamoto remarked, this involved using the “very Japanese” approach of merging many different styles like a Bento box in a reliable, forward thinking fashion.

The technology used on their 1978 debut album included the Moog III-C, Korg PS-3100, Polymoog, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim Eight Voice, Minimoog, Korg VC-10 Vocoder and Roland MC-8 Micro Composer. With the latter programmed by fourth member Hideki Matsutake, the result was a crisp, exotic pop sound that was unusual and ahead of its time, even in the synthesizer heartland of Europe.

YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA scored a UK Top 20 hit single in 1980 with ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’ . Recorded in 1978, the main section of the track was actually ‘Firecracker’, a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny. The single also gained traction in America where the trio made a memorable appearance on the prestigious music show ‘Soul Train’. It subsequently made an impact out on the block as it was later sampled by Hip-Hop godfather Afrika Bambaataa on ‘Death Mix’ and then in 2001, it was used again by Jennifer Lopez on ‘I’m Real’.

The international popularity of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA (or YMO as they came to be known) coincided with the burgeoning synthpop scene in Britain which had embraced the affordable synthesizers from Japanese manufacturers such as Roland, Korg and Yamaha. VISAGE’s Rusty Egan in his dual role as DJ at the legendary Blitz Club in London had been spinning YMO tunes while acts such as GARY NUMAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, ULTRAVOX, OMD, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE started achieving mainstream success.

YMO went on to be the one of the most popular bands in South East Asia, but despite this success, the trio went into hiatus in 1984, with each member continuing their already established parallel solo careers. While the trio said they were “spreading out” rather than splitting, they continued to play on each other’s recordings and made guest appearances at various live shows.

Sakamoto achieved the highest international profile from his ventures into acting and soundtrack work. His Oscar winning success for ‘The Last Emperor’ in 1988 helped expand his soundtrack portfolio to include films such as ‘Black Rain’, ‘The Sheltering Sky’ and ‘Little Buddha’, while he also composed music for events like the Opening Ceremony of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

A short reunion took place in 1993 for the ‘Technodon’ album where the band had to be known as YMO, but there was no further activity until 2007 when Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi were reunited for a Kirin Lager advertising campaign, performing one of their most popular numbers ‘Rydeen’.

Hosono and Takahashi had been working together in a project called SKETCH SHOW and on a number of occasions, Sakamoto was invited to join in. As a result, he proposed that the group rename itself HUMAN AUDIO SPONGE (HAS) for whenever he was involved. Inevitably, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA reformed again when they played the 2007 Kyoto Live Earth event, although for recording purposes they combined names and went out as HASYMO.

ymo1In Summer 2008, the trio played the Meltdown Festival curated by MASSIVE ATTACK billed as YMO, although only four YMO songs were played while the rest of the set comprised of SKETCH SHOW, HASYMO and solo material. However in 2009, the trio performed at the World Happiness festival in Japan and confirmed that YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was their official name, while there was a further appearance at the 2010 event. Despite the confusion over names, it would appear YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA are still a going concern, although Sakamoto is presently taking an extended break recuperating from illness.

So with their place in electronic music history assured, what twenty tracks would make up an imaginary CD compilation album to act as Beginner’s Guide to the iconic trio? The Electricity Club made the following selections for its YMO Bento box…


YMOYELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s debut self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new computerised Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. With their use of modern technology, they became standard bearers for what eventually became known in Japan as technopop. Despite its pulsing electronic disco bassline, the Sakamoto penned ‘Tong Poo’ was inspired by Chinese music produced during the China’s Cultural Revolution.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ via Alfa Music



solid state survivorWith ‘Behind The Mask’, YMO’s influence touched rock, pop and soul. Michael Jackson loved the track so much, he penned additional lyrics to it during the ‘Thriller’ sessions. Unable to be released at the time by Jackson himself, he gave the reworked track to his musical director Greg Phillinganes who had a surprise Top 5 hit in the US R’n’B charts in 1985. This proxy collaboration was then later covered by Eric Clapton in 1987. The remixed MJ demo eventually appeared on the posthumous album ‘Michael’.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Solid State Survivor’ via Alfa Music


RIUICHI SAKAMOTO Riot in Lagos (1980)

riot in lagosBack from when Sakamoto spelt the alphabetical version of his first name as ‘Riuichi’, ‘Riot in Lagos’ off his 1980 ‘B-2 Unit’ album has often been seen as a pivotal track that anticipated the beats and pulses of house music. A frantic but danceable instrumental that conveyed the rhythmic tension and violence of the title, it was a fine example of the visual narrative of Sakamoto’s compositional mind. It was a talent that would serve him well in a burgeoning career that would eventually lead him to the cinema.

Available on the RIUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘B-2 Unit’ via GT Music Japan


JAPAN Taking Islands In Africa (1980)

japan-gentlemen-takeFollowing the success of JAPAN’s third album ‘Quiet Life’, Sakamoto was assigned by a magazine to interview David Sylvian. The meeting led to the beginnings of a long standing friendship and a magnificent collaboration entitled ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ which ended up closing the long player. The music was entirely Sakamoto’s while Sylvian contributed the worldly lyrics. There were to be further collaborations between the pair, the most recent being ‘World Citizen’ in 2004.

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ via Virgin Records



YMO BGM‘BGM’ was the first recording to use the now iconic Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer and a 3M 32-track digital recorder. However, as producer of ‘BGM’, Hosono did not like the latter’s aural sharpness and preferred to record the rhythm sections on analogue tape first before copying them to the 3M machine. This album’s best song ‘Camouflage’ was a curious beat laden blend of Eastern pentatonics and Western metallics… the German synth band CAMOUFLAGE took their name from this very song.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘BGM’ via Alfa Music


LOGIC SYSTEM Domino Dance (1981)

logic systemThe Roland MC-8 Micro-Composer programmed by fourth member Hideki Matsutake was a key part of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s early production and live performances. In 1981, Matsutake formed his own project LOGIC SYSTEM. Inspired after hearing a playback of Wendy Carlos’ ‘Switched-On Bach’, he went on to be the technical assistant of TOMITA. ‘Domino Dance’ was the excellent lead single from the acclaimed ‘Logic’ and while less immediate, it was worthy of his better known employers.

Available on the LOGIC SYSTEM album ‘Logic’ via Express Japan / Toshiba EMI


SANDII & THE SUNSETZ The Great Wall (1981)

SANDII&THESUNSETZ Heat ScaleAfter guesting on ‘Absolute Ego Dance’ from ‘Solid State Survivor’, Hawaiian Japanese vocalist Sandy O’Neal began working with Hosono, who was producing a Japanese band called THE SUNSET GANG. Convincing the all-male combo that her Kate Bush influenced vocals would be ideal to front their brand of chunky music, SANDII & THE SUNSETZ were born. The highlight of the 1981 Hosono produced album ‘Heat Scale’ was ‘The Great Wall’, a song influenced by music of the Chinese Cultural revolution.

Available on the SANDII & THE SUNSETZ album ‘Heat Scale’ via Alfa Music


YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI Something In The Air (1981)

Yukihiro-Takahashi-Neuromantic-523610Being YMO’s main vocalist did not necessarily mean Takahashi-san was a great singer and indeed, it very much had a Marmite effect. With his solo albums of course, his voice took centre stage. And with his afflicted, semi-croon in the vein of Bryan Ferry, he showed his passionate side on ‘Something In The Air’. Not a cover of the THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN song, it came from ‘Neuromantic’, considered to be one of Takahashi’s finest solo albums; it featured Tony Mansfield, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay.

Available on the YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI album ‘Neuromantic’ via GT Music Japan



technodelicYMO’s experimental fourth long player ‘Technodelic’ was notable for its use of an LMD-649, a hand-made sampler developed by Toshiba EMI engineer Kenji Murata. Although ‘Neue Tanz’ was a tribute to KRAFTWERK, Hosono played bass guitar on the track, adding a dark funkiness that once merged with the Indonesian Kecak chanting samples, recalled David Byrne and Brian Eno’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ album. KRAFTWERK borrowed back the concept in 1986 for ‘Musique Non Stop’.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Technodelic’ via Alfa Music


SUSAN I Only Come Out at Night (1982)

SUSAN I Only Come Out At NightFranco-Japanese beauty SUSAN was a protégée of Takahashi and ‘I Only Come Out At Night’ was produced and written by him with lyrical assistance from the now-regular YMO collaborator Peter Barakan. Gloriously detuned and pentatonic, this was a fine example of how new technology was allowing the smarter than average drummer to challenge their perceived role in pop. Takahashi certainly provided a heavier, more leftfield sound compared with Hosono’s production work for Idol singers such as Seiko Matsuda.

Available on the SUSAN album ‘Complete’ via Sony Music Japan



naughty boys‘Naughty Boys’ was YMO’s most commercial album of their career. This was highlighted by the massively popular and joyous lead single ‘Kimi Ni Mune Kyun’. Takahashi, Hosono and Sakamoto were the oldest J-Pop boy band in town, looking like ARASHI’s great uncles! A YMO vs THE HUMAN LEAGUE EP featuring a remix with new English lyrics and vocals by Phil Oakey was released in 1993. Meanwhile in 2009, the song was the closing theme to the Anime series ‘Maria Holic’, sung by the voice cast.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Naughty Boys’ via Alfa Music



Sylvian+SAKAMOTO-Forbidden-Colours-Following a joint single with David Sylvian at the height of JAPAN’s fame entitled ‘Bamboo Music’ in 1982, Sakamoto made his 1983 acting debut alongside David Bowie in ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’. He also composed the soundtrack with Sylvian providing lead vocals on the single version of the WWII drama’s haunting theme tune. Retitled ‘Forbidden Colours’, the lyrics reflected the taboo love story of the Nagisa Oshima directed film. Since then, the track has been covered in various languages.

Available on the RYUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ via Editions Milan Music / BMG


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA You’ve Got To Help Yourself (1983)

YMO ServiceLike the polarising ‘∞Multiplies’ mini-album from 1980, ‘Service’ contained YMO songs alongside various skits, performed by the comedy combo SUPER ECCENTRIC THEATER (SET). Whether the inclusion of the SET material was an ironic act of cultural subversion is a mystery to Western ears, as the sketches were all in Japanese! The best song on ‘Service’ though was the poppy ‘You’ve Got To Help Yourself’ which tellingly had previously featured in instrumental taster form on ‘Naughty Boys’.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Service’ via Alfa Music


HARUOMI HOSONO Gaplus (1984)

HOSONO Super XeviousHosono was one of the first people to acknowledge the appeal of video game sounds and arranged an album containing Namco arcade game music. Simply titled ‘Video Game Music’, it was acknowledged as being the first chiptune record. A subsequent maxi single release ‘Super Xevious’ had Hosono actually composing and performing around original game music by Yuriko Keino and Junko Ozawa. ‘Gaplus’ with its phased gunshots, blips and classical overtones was the undoubted highlight.

Available on the HARUOMI HOSONO EP ‘Super Xevious’ via Scitron Digital Content


RYUICHI SAKAMOTO featuring THOMAS DOLBY Field Work (1986)

fieldworkMost of the tracks for what was to become ‘Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia’ were originally recorded in 1984 and as the title suggested, saw Sakamoto exploring a variety of styles and genres including jazz and soca. Initially only released in Japan, the album was altered for the international market with some new tracks. One of these was this great collaboration with Thomas Dolby. Entitled ‘Field Work’, it united both artists’ concerns for the environment.

Available on the RYUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia’ via 10 / Virgin Records



STEVE JANSEN & YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI Stay CloseTakahashi’s solo albums featured JAPAN’s bassist Mick Karn and drummer Steve Jansen. In 1986, Jansen and Takahashi released a brilliant joint single ‘Stay Close’. Additionally featuring the talents of legendary rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar, Jansen in particular did a very able impression of his older brother David Sylvian, while Takahashi provided his usual mannered “will he make it – won’t he?” vocals. It remains a true lost classic as possibly the best song that JAPAN and YMO never recorded.

Available on the YUKIHIRO TAKAHASHI album ‘Once A Fool…’ via Pony Canyon


SYLVIAN / SAKAMOTO Heartbeat (1992)

heartbeatThe dreamy ‘Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II)’ saw David Sylvian return to give a raw passionate vocal performance which was counterpointed by a whispery spoken word passage from Ingrid Chavez. The two emotionally connected in real life and got married after the recording. More organic than previous Sylvian / Sakamoto collaborations, the bed of the song was Sakamoto-san’s eerie piano and ‘Twin Peaks’ strings, while out of nowhere came a rousing solo from noted jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.

Available on the RYUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘Heartbeat’ via Virgin Records


YMO Pocketful Of Rainbows (1993)

YMO TECHNODONFor their comeback album ‘Technodon’, the band were forced to release it under the moniker YMO as the name YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was owned by former record label Alfa Records. Songs like ‘Hi-tech Hippies’ had more straightforward techno arrangements than any of the trio’s more recent solo work. The album was also sample free to save any potential copyright infringements. ‘Pocket Full Of Rainbows’ was a Japanese language cover of the tune made famous by Elvis Presley in ‘GI Blues’.

Available on the YMO album ‘Technodon’ via Toshiba EMI


RYUICHI SAKAMOTO Anger – Rare Force 2 Meg Remix (1998)

Sakamoto-AngerSakamoto’s soundtrack success led him to sign with Sony Classical. His first work for the label ‘Discord’ was a four movement avant-garde composition exploring dissonant musical structures. Two of the tracks ‘Anger’ and ‘Grief’ were given out to remixers, thus cementing the link Sakamoto had with dance culture since ‘Riot In Lagos’. The aggressive, almost industrial ‘Anger’ was given a dark breakbeat treatment by Skint Records signings RARE FORCE which got the adrenaline pumping.

Available on the RYUICHI SAKAMOTO album ‘Moto.tronic’ via Sony Music


HASYMO Rescue (2007)

HASYMO rescueProducing a single ‘Rescue’ for the Anime film ‘Appleseed Ex Machina’, Hosono, Sakamoto and Takahashi utilised a leftfield jazz techno sound and the pretty female voice of Chiho Shibaoka. The film’s soundtrack featured two further HASYMO tracks ‘Method’ and ‘Weather’ as well as a large number of solo contributions from Hosono. The recorded reunion put YMO back into the public eye and led to invitations for a variety of prestigious events including Meltdown.

Available on the HASYMO single ‘Rescue’ via Commmons ‎/ Avex Trax


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th June 2015, updated 8th June 2020


Artist collaborations can be seen in several ways.

LoweSumnerMarrTennantThey are either a chance to take the best elements of great bands to form an even greater supergroup, or as has happened in many cases, there is a watering down of prime concepts which results in a fragmented mess of little interest to anyone.

So here are 25 artist collaborations that actually worked; the list is restricted to one song per main act, defined as being the one who released the parent album.

That means PET SHOP BOYS, who have been among the most ubiquitous and willing of conspirators, get to appear as themselves and as guests of ELECTRONIC and DAVID BOWIE while NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner appears as part ELECTRONIC as well as also moonlighting for THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS and Philip Oakey of THE HUMAN LEAGUE gets in there twice as a guest.

Over more recent years, there appears to have much more freedom for artists to collaborate, notably with SPARKS recently unveiled collaboration with Glasgow based art rockers FRANZ FERDINAND, named rather straightforwardly FFS. And this is reflected by this list here which has a bias towards new millennium recordings, although The Electricity Club is pleased to say, this is a CALVIN HARRIS free zone 😉

SYLVIAN SAKAMOTO Bamboo Houses (1982)

Sylvian SakamotoBoth David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto were beginning to make their artistic presence felt outside of JAPAN and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, and having collaborated on ‘Taking Islands in Africa’, another project was always on the cards. ‘Bamboo Houses’ expanded on the electro-acoustic textures of ‘Tin Drum’ over a catchy percussive framework courtesy of Steve Jansen. Sylvian delivered his usual mournful vocal but Sakamoto’s monologue and marimba gave the track that extra ethnic authenticity.

Available on the DAVID SYLVIAN compilation ‘A Victim of Stars 1982-2012’ via Virgin Records



MIDGE URE & MICK KARN After A Fashion (1983)

MidgeUre+MickKarn‘After A Fashion’ was a blistering sonic salvo that crossed the best of JAPAN’s rhythmical art muzak with ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Thin Wall’. However, it stalled at No39 in the UK singles charts and sadly, there was to be no album. But Karn later played on Ure’s ‘Remembrance Day’ in 1988 and Ure briefly joined JBK, the band formally known as JAPAN sans David Sylvian for an aborted project in 1992 that resulted in two songs ‘Cry’ and ‘Get A Life’. Sadly Karn passed away in 2011 after losing his battle against cancer.

Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘No Regrets’ via Music Club Deluxe



SHARPE & NUMAN Change Your Mind (1985)

Sharpe+Numan-Change-Your-MindVery much seen as the odd couple, the duo’s promotional photos captured the curly haired jazz funk aficionado with The Iceman! Bill Sharpe was pianist with jazz fusion group SHAKATAK. Together with their drummer Roger Odell, they had written a piece of computerised electrofunk that needed a vocal. Engineered by Nick Smith who had also been working with GARY NUMAN, he suggested that the former Mr Webb would be ideally suited to the futuristic backing. ‘Change Your Mind’ reached No17 in the UK.

Available on the SHARPE & NUMAN album ‘Automatic’ via Cherry Pop



LES RITA MITSOUKO & SPARKS Singing In The Shower (1990)

singing in the showerIn France, LES RITA MITSOUKO became unlikely pop stars thanks to danceable hit singles such as ‘Marcia Baïla’ and ‘C’est Comme Ça’. Vivacious singer Catherine Ringer and oddball instrumentalist Fred Chichin were influenced by the eccentric overtures of SPARKS and with a moniker in a similar vein to the Mael Brothers’ breakthrough LP ‘Kimono My House’, an artistic union was inevitable. With the two duos “feeling dirty and feeling clean”, the catchy ‘Singing In The Shower’ was a hit in Europe.

Available on the LES RITA MITSOUKO album ‘Marc & Robert’ via Virgin France



ELECTRONIC featuring PET SHOP BOYS The Patience Of A Saint (1991)

electronic‘The Patience Of A Saint’ from ELECTRONIC’s debut was undoubtedly the highlight of that album. Featuring the involvement of both PET SHOP BOYS, the witty exchange between Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant was accompanied by a gorgeous backing track of drum machine, swimmy string synth and minimal guitar. Incidentally, the song was premiered in front of 60,000 people when ELECTRONIC, with Tennant and Lowe in tow, supported DEPECHE MODE at Dodger Stadium in August 1990.

Available on the ELECTRONIC album ‘Electronic’ via Warner Music



808 STATE featuring IAN McCULLOCH Moses (1993)

808State-GorgeousFollowing the departure of founder member Martin Price, ‘Gorgeous’ was 808 STATE’s first album as a three piece. Featuring early mash-up experiments based around UB40, THE JAM and JOY DIVISION, one of the wholly original compositions though was ‘Moses’, a rare electronically backed outing by ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN’s Ian McCulloch. Sounding like NEW ORDER with a Scouse snarl, the unusual but enjoyable partnership was the highlight of the album.

Available on the 808 STATE album ‘Gorgeous’ via ZTT Records



ELEKTRIC MUSIC featuring ANDY McCLUSKEY Kissing The Machine (1993)

ElektricMusic-EsperantoRecorded for his ELEKTRIC MUSIC project after leaving KRAFTWERK, Karl Bartos’ collaboration with OMD’s Andy McCluskey featured one of his best melodies synth melodies. Bartos told The Electricity Club: “He suggested we do something together and I was up for it… We picked some cassettes and finally I found the opening notes of ‘Kissing The Machine’. A month later he sent me a demo”. With fabulously surreal lyrics about a love affair with a sexy robot, it became a cult favourite. OMD resurrected the song in 2013.

Available on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records




Leftfield_Open_UpJohn Lydon had shown himself to be open to collaboration following 1984’s ‘World Destruction’ as TIME ZONE with electro rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. But ‘Open Up’ with the then relatively unknown dance duo LEFTFIELD came as something of a surprise. Lydon was suitably angry as he reflected on the tensions of his adopted home with a screaming “Burn Hollywood, burn!” over an intense electronic soundtrack. LEFTFILELD would later work with Afrika Bambaataa themselves on ‘Afrika Shox’ in 1999.

Available on the LEFTFIELD album ‘A Final Hit’ via Sony Music



DAVID BOWIE featuring PET SHOP BOYS Hallo Spaceboy (1996)

hallo_spaceboyBLUR’s Alex James once remarked that having a PET SHOP BOYS remix was like having your dog being taken for a walk, but then, when it came back, it was a different dog! PET SHOP BOYS certainly re-produced this Bowie/Eno composition from ‘1.Outside’ into a much more commercial proposition, even utilising the cut-up technique to decide which words Neil Tennant would sing. Reaching No12, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ became Da Dame’s biggest UK hit since ‘Jump They Say’ in 1990!

Available on the DAVID BOWIE album ‘Nothing Has Changed’ via EMI Music




Chemical Bros-Out_of_control‘Out Of Control’ was THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS’ sonic template actually fulfilling its potential within a song based format with Bernard Sumner as the willing conspirator. ‘Out Of Control’ had everything from a bombastic backbeat and cerebral sequences to bizarre lyrics, especially when Sumner resigned that “maybe my moustache is too much…”. The association with Sumner continued when they produced NEW ORDER’s terrific ‘Here To Stay’ for Factory Records biopic ’24 Hour Party People’.

Available on THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS album ‘Singles 93-03’ via Virgin Records



SYSTEM F featuring MARC ALMOND Soul On Soul (2001)

marc almond+system fFerry Corsten had a huge international hit in 1999 with ‘Out Of The Blue’ under his SYSTEM F moniker. It highlighted the spiritual connection between synthpop and trance so to substantiate the link further, the Rotterdam based producer recruited MARC ALMOND to guest on the blinding ‘Soul On Soul’ for a spirited, club friendly workout. This all tied in nicely with SOFT CELL’s comeback album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which finally arrived in Autumn 2002.

Available on the album ‘Out Of The Blue’ via Tsunami Records



X-PRESS2 featuring DAVID BYRNE Lazy (2002)

lazyThe Dumbarton born TALKING HEADS frontman was back in the mainstream limelight for the first time since the band disbanded in 1991 with this superb online collaboration with British DJ duo X-PRESS2. David Byrne gave his best afflicted ‘Psycho Killer’ meets ‘Once In A Lifetime’ warble for what became a No2 UK chart hit. He later reworked ‘Lazy’ with orchestral embellishments for his 2004 solo long player ‘Grown Backwards’.

Available on the X-PRESS2 album ‘Muzikizum’ via Skint Records



JUNKIE XL featuring DAVE GAHAN Reload (2003)

RadioJXL‘Reload’ was a welcome relief after DEPECHE MODE’s paradoxically titled ‘Exciter’. The brief sojourn with Dutch producer Tom Holkenborg aka JUNKIE XL proved once and for all how well Dave Gahan’s voice worked on uptempo electronic dance tracks. He may be more interested in  MUMFORD & SONS these days, but frankly, over a lively synth laden backbone is where he sounds best. The ‘Radio JXL: A Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin’ album also featured guest vocals from GARY NUMAN!

Available on the JUNKIE XL album ‘Radio JXL: A Broadcast From the Computer Hell Cabin’ via EMI Music



ERASURE featuring CYNDI LAUPER (2007)

erasure-storm-chaserMs Lauper was heading towards a career renaissance with her excellent ‘Bring Ya To The Brink’ album in 2008 so her collaboration with ERASURE in 2007 was quite timely. A soulful slice of Trans-Atlantic synthpop, ‘Early Bird’ was an enjoyable duet between her and Andy Bell that turned out to be the one of the more memorable tracks that emerged from ERASURE’s rather lukewarm ‘Light At The End Of The World’ sessions.

Available on the ERASURE EP ‘Storm Chaser’ via Mute Records



LITTLE BOOTS featuring PHILIP OAKEY Symmetry (2009)

untitledAt the time ‘Symmetry’ was unveiled, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had not released any new material since 2001. With a fabulous chorus, this was the nearest thing to a new HUMAN LEAGUE track with Victoria Hesketh doing her best Susanne Sulley impression. So when it was Phil talking, it was magic. “Tell me your dreams and I’ll tell you all my fears” he announced, as they complimented each other in a way that had not really even been heard on a League record before.

Available on the LITTLE BOOTS album ‘Hands’ via 679 Recordings



MY ROBOT FRIEND featuring ALISON MOYET Waiting (2009)

my robot friend+moyet-waitingMY ROBOT FRIEND aka Howard Rigberg famously created the song ‘We’re The Pet Shop Boys’ in honour of Messrs Tennant and Lowe, who subsequently covered it by way of a reverse compliment. Rigberg went recruited ALISON MOYET for her first purely electronic adventure since the YAZOO days on ‘Waiting’. This welcome union with its off-kilter synth sounds alongside her voice no doubt helped ignite her interest in working within the genre again, the result of which was 2013’s ‘the minutes’.

Available on the MY ROBOT FRIEND album ‘Soft-Core’ via Double Feature/Worried Rainbow



PET SHOP BOYS featuring PHILIP OAKEY This Used To Be The Future (2009)

pet_shop_boys_yes_etc_50‘This Used To Be The Future’ was a dream trioet, exclusive to ‘Yes etc’, that featured Neil Tennant, Philip Oakey and Chris Lowe. With Lowe actually singing as opposed to just speaking, this triumphant celebration of yesterday’s tomorrow saw Oakey deadpan in that classic disappointed tone that things didn’t quite turn out how Raymond Baxter predicted on ‘Tomorrow’s World’! In that much loved HUMAN LEAGUE style, he finally resigns himself and at grunts“AMEN!”.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Yes: Further Listening 2008-2010’ via EMI Music



RÖYKSOPP featuring ROBYN The Girl & The Robot (2009)

girl&therobotThe centrepiece of RÖYKSOPP’s third album ‘The Girl & The Robot’ was perhaps the culmination of ROBYN’s steady rise as a truly independent female artist. Despite having gained success in 1997 with the R’n’B tinged ‘Show Me Love’, ROBYN’s superiors at BMG reacted negatively to her new electropop aspirations inspired by fellow Swedes THE KNIFE. Frustrated, ROBYN bought herself out of her contract and set up her own Konichiwa Records, giving her the freedom to work with whoever she wanted.

Available on the RÖYKSOPP album ‘Junior’ via Wall Of Sound / PIAS



BLANK & JONES featuring CLAUDIA BRÜCKEN Don’t Stop (2010)

The Logic Of PleasureThe German dance duo had previously worked with Miss Brücken on ‘Unknown Treasure’, a most gorgeous electrobeat ballad from 2003. ‘Don’t Stop’ was a progression on that but with a wider texture pallet and more abstract electronic overtones. Despite being less song based, vocally it is classic Claudia with its spoken verse and sexy ice maiden delivery in chorus.

Available on the BLANK & JONES album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’ via Kontor Records



CRYSTAL CASTLES featuring ROBERT SMITH Not In Love (2010)

notinloveRe-recorded for single release, Alice Beer took a breather to allow guest Robert Smith from THE CURE to take lead vocals on ‘Not In Love’, a dark but accessible number from CRYSTAL CASTLES’ second album. Smith more than fitted in with the Canadian duo’s aggressive and occasionally chaotic electronic template on this frantic uncovering of a song originally recorded by obscure Toronto new wave combo PLATINUM BLONDE.

Available on the CRYSTAL CASTLES featuring ROBERT SMITH single ‘Not In Love’ via Last Gang/Fiction Records



MOTOR featuring MARTIN L GORE Man Made Machine (2012)

MOTOR’s electro stomper ‘Man Made Machine’ featured vocals by DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore in a collaboration which came over a bit like a camp IGGY POP. Gore certainly sounded a touch nervous and uneasy, luring over the duo’s brand of harder edged schaffel techno which only enhanced its appeal. Incidentally, the same titled parent album also featured guests such as GARY NUMAN, BILLIE RAY MARTIN and NITZER EBB’s Douglas J McCarthy.

Available on the MOTOR album ‘Man Made Machine’ via CLR



FOTONOVELA featuring MIRRORS Our Sorrow (2013)

tonofloveNot content with producing MARSHEAUX and collaborating with OMD on ‘Helen Of Troy’, Greek duo FOTONOVELA released a more song based second album featuring a number of prominent international vocalists entitled ‘A Ton Of Love’. One of the numbers ‘Our Sorrow’ featured James New from the much missed MIRRORS. In the vein of classic OMD, New’s majestic vocal touching the heartstrings, the wonderful melancholy was perfect, soulful electronic pop.

Available on the FOTONOVELA album ‘A Ton of Love’ via Undo Records



JOHN FOXX & JORI HULKKONEN Evangeline (2013)

John_Foxx_Jori_Hulkkonen_-_European_Splendour_CDFoxx and Hulkkonen had worked together previously on various one-off songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’ but had never before attempted a body of work with a conceptual theme. When the two finally found some collaborative time together, he result was ‘European Splendour’, an EP with a grainier downtempo template than before. The lead track ‘Evangeline’ was full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of overworldly character throughout.

Available on the JOHN FOXX & JORI HULKKONEN EP ‘European Splendour’ via Sugarcane Records



SIN COS TAN featuring CASEY SPOONER Avant Garde (2013)

sin cos tan+casey spoonerSIN COS TAN’s Jori Hulkkonen first found fame as part of TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS back in 2001 at the height of the Electroclash movement. Partly recalling that era, ‘Avant Garde’ saw Casey Spooner from the scene’s flag bearers FISCHERSPOONER make a guest appearance on the duo’s second long player ‘Afterlife’. The track itself though was more like THE CURE produced by PET SHOP BOYS with Spooner providing a suitably cynical snarl to contrast Juho Paalosmaa’s impassioned lost boy cry.

Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’ via Solina Records



iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound (2014)

iEuropean+WolfgangAlthough Wolfgang Flür ’s last full album project was as YAMO with ‘Time Pie’ back in 1997, there was this marvellous electronic number entitled ‘Activity Of Sound’, recorded in collaboration with iEUROPEAN. The project of Dublin based artist Sean Barron, the additional female monologue  was provided by Barron’s wife, Izabella. The track sees Herr Flür quoting an archive interview with the late avant garde composer John Cage to a soundtrack of hypnotic synthetic bliss.

Available on the iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR download single ‘Activity Of Sound’ via Subculture Records



Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th May 2015, updated 15th April 2018

The Electronic Legacy of VIRGIN RECORDS

Virgin Records celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

Although the label is now owned by the Universal Music Group, its colourful history is forever associated with the championing of new and unconventional music forms during its fledgling years.

Virgin founder Richard Branson started his empire in 1970 with nothing more than a mail order outlet, selling discounted records.

The name Virgin came from the fact that Branson and his team of directors were all new to business.

Then came a small record shop in London’s Oxford Street a year later and not long after, a residential recording complex in an Oxfordshire mansion which became the now-famous Manor Studios.

Further shops opened so with the success of the retail arm and studio, a record label was launched in 1973. Recognising he had no real working knowledge of music, Branson appointed his second cousin Simon Draper (who had been Virgin’s buyer) as Managing Director to seek out new talent for the new A&R led company.

Beginning with MIKE OLDFIELD’s ‘Tubular Bells’ and the catalogue number V2001, progressive acts such as GONG along with cosmic Germans FAUST and TANGERINE DREAM soon followed, all with degrees of varying success.

But with the advent of punk and keen to shake off its hippy image, Virgin gained notoriety by signing THE SEX PISTOLS in 1977 and releasing ‘God Save The Queen’ in the process. The label courted further controversy when they issued the album ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’ to great fanfare. Virgin ended up in the dock under the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act over a poster in their Nottingham record shop.

But Branson and defending QC John Mortimer had an ace up their sleeve; Reverend James Kingsley, a professor of English Studies at Nottingham University was called as a witness. Under questioning, Kingsley was asked for the derivation of the word “bollocks”.

Apparently, it was used in the 19th century as a nickname for clergymen who were known to talk rubbish and the word later developed into meaning “of nonsense”. Wearing his clerical collar in court, Kingsley confirmed: “They became known for talking a great deal of bollocks, just as old balls or baloney also come to mean testicles, so it has twin uses in the dictionary”. The case was thrown out by the judge…

After that, the label reinvented itself as a centre of post-punk and new wave creativity, signing bands such as THE RUTS, XTC, PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, MAGAZINE, THE SKIDS, DEVO and PENETRATION.

When DAVID BOWIE declared THE HUMAN LEAGUE as “the future of pop music” after seeing them at the Nashville in 1978, Virgin Records were quick to snap them up. Meanwhile, OMD were initially signed to Virgin’s Factory styled subsidiary Dindisc Records under the directorship of Carol Wilson; but their success had been an embarrassment to Richard Branson, particularly in 1980 when following the international success of ‘Enola Gay’, OMD had outsold every act in the parent group! Despite massive sales of ‘Architecture & Morality’ in 1981, the label ran into difficulties and was closed by Branson with OMD gleefully absorbed into the Virgin fold.

The label threw in its lot with the synthesizer revolution and gave homes to SPARKS, JAPAN, SIMPLE MINDS, JOHN FOXX, HEAVEN 17 and CHINA CRISIS as well as more conventional acts of the period such as PHIL COLLINS, BRYAN FERRY and CULTURE CLUB.

In 1982, on the back of ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ having been a No 1 in the UK and USA, Virgin had made a profit of £2 million but by 1983, this had leaped to £11 million! Virgin Records was sold by Branson to Thorn EMI in 1992 reportedly for around £560 million to fund Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Under new management, the label became less visionary and more corporate with SPICE GIRLS, LENNY KRAVITZ, THE ROLLING STONES, MEAT LOAF and JANET JACKSON being examples of the brand’s continued global success, while many of the innovative acts who had helped build the label were surplus to requirements. Despite this, Virgin Records still maintains a tremendous back catalogue.

Over the years, Virgin Records have been in the fortunate position of having a critically acclaimed act on its roster at each key stage of electronic music’s development and its electronic legacy continues today with the recent signing of Glaswegian synth trio CHVRCHES.

So here are twenty albums from the iconic label which The Electricity Club considers significant in the development of electronic music. Restricted to one album per artist moniker and featuring only UK releases initially issued on or licensed to the Virgin label, they are presented in chronological order…

TANGERINE DREAM Rubycon (1975)

tangerine_dream-rubycon(3)‘Phaedra’ may have been the breakthrough album but the much under rated ‘Rubycon’ consolidated TANGERINE DREAM’s position as leaders in the field of meditative electronic music with a wider palette and more focussed direction. Featuring the classic line-up of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Chris Franke, the hypnotic noodles of VCS3 and Moogs dominated proceedings while Mellotrons and organic lines added to the trancey impressionism.

‘Rubycon’ was released as V2025


ASHRA New Age Of Earth (1977)

Ashra_New_Age_of_EarthGuitarist Manuel Göttsching had been a member of ASH RA TEMPEL but looking to explore more progressive voxless territory on ‘New Age Of Earth’, he armed himself with an Eko Rhythm Computer, ARP Odyssey and his signature keyboard, a Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of a more transient soloing style,  he used the guitar for texture as much as for melody. The wonderful 20 minute ‘Nightdust’ and the gently percussive ‘Sunrain’ were just two of the jewels in this beautiful treasure trove of an album.

‘New Age Of Earth’ was released as V2080


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

hillage-rainbow domeAlready an established member of the Virgin family as a member of GONG, solo artist and in-house producer, Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the ‘Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit’ at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey vibe to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ was released as VR1


SPARKS No1 In Heaven (1979)

Sparks_no1_HeavenFollowing the inspirational success of ‘I Feel Love’, SPARKS were put in contact with its producer Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band. The resultant album saw Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitting well with the electronic disco template. ‘The No1 Song In Heaven’ hit the UK charts a few months before TUBEWAY ARMY’s seminal ‘Are Friends Electric?’ while the follow-up ‘Beat The Clock’ actually got into the Top 10. However ‘No1 in Heaven’ overshadowed by the success of GARY NUMAN.

‘No1 In Heaven’ was released as V2115


JOHN FOXX Metamatic (1980)

john_foxx-metamatic“I want to be a machine” snarled JOHN FOXX on ULTRAVOX’s eponymous debut and after he left the band in 1979, he virtually went the full hog with this JG Ballard inspired seminal recording. ‘Underpass’ and ‘No-One Driving’ were surprising hit singles that underlined the dystopian nature of Foxx’s mindset at the time while the fabulous ‘A New Kind Of Man’ and the deviant ‘He’s A Liquid’ were pure unadulterated Sci-Fi driven by the cold mechanics of a Roland CR78 Compurhythm.

‘Metamatic’ was released as V2146


JAPAN Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

japan-gentlemen-takeDropped in 1980 by Ariola Hansa despite the Roxy-ish sound on their third album ‘Quiet Life’ being palatable with the emerging New Romantic scene, JAPAN found a refuge at Virgin. As one of the best numbers, ‘Swing’ succeeded in out Roxy-ing ROXY MUSIC while the haunting ‘Nightporter’ was the ultimate Erik Satie tribute. A new found interest in Japanese technopop saw Sylvian collaborate with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s Ryuichi Sakamoto on the splendid closer ‘Taking Islands In Africa’.

‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ was released as V2180



When they left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in Autumn 1980, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh formed BEF, releasing ‘Music For Stowaways’, an instrumental album only available on cassette to accessorise Sony’s brand new Stowaway portable tape player. However, the name of the new device was changed to Walkman! With economic recession decimating the industrial heartland of Sheffield, the futurist horror of ‘Music To Kill Your Parents By’ and the doom laden ‘Uptown Apocalypse’ connected with the album’s concept of a walking soundtrack to life.

‘Music For Stowaways’ was released as TCV2888



After two albums ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ containing “synthesizers and vocals only” failed to set the world alight, manager Bob Last played a game of divide and rule on the original line-up. Vocalist Philip Oakey and Director of Visuals Adrian Wright would recruit Ian Burden, Jo Callis, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall to record the now classic ‘Dare’ album under the auspices of producer Martin Rushent. Like KRAFTWERK with the heart of ABBA, it was a dreamboat collection of worldwide hits.

‘Dare’ was released as V2192


HEAVEN 17 Penthouse & Pavement (1981)

penthouseHEAVEN 17’s debut ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was a landmark achievement, combining electronics with pop hooks and disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary about yuppie aspiration and mutually assured destruction. The ‘Pavement’ side was a showcase of hybrid funk driven by the then new Linn Drum Computer and embellished by the guitar and bass skills of youngster John Wilson while the ‘Penthouse’ side was more like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’.

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ was released as V2208


SIMPLE MINDS New Gold Dream (1982)

Simple Minds - New Gold Dream 81,82,83,84“You want to be with Virgin so bad that you’ll sign anyway” said Richard Branson to SIMPLE MINDS when they wanted to defect from Arista Records. And sign they did after the promise of US tour support. SIMPLE MINDS lost their intensity and recorded a great album filled with pretty synthesized melodies, textural guitar and driving lead bass runs. The titles like ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Colours Fly & Catherine Wheel’ and ‘Hunter & The Hunted’ made investigation essential.

‘New Gold Dream’ was released as V2230


DEVO Oh, No! It’s Devo (1982)

oh-no-devoBy 1982, DEVO had become much more of a synth based act with programmed percussion to boot. Under the helm of producer Roy Thomas Baker who had worked with both QUEEN and THE CARS, their sound moved away from the guitar dominated art rock of their Eno produced debut ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’ As quirky as ever, the album’s concept was a response to criticism from the press about their imagery… thus they asked “what would an album by fascist clowns sound like?”

‘Oh, No! It’s Devo’ was released as V2241


OMD Dazzle Ships (1983)

OMD_Dazzle_ShipsFor OMD’s first album for Virgin, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys delivered ‘Dazzle Ships’, a brave sonic exploration of Cold War tensions and economic corruption. Although it featured some of the band’s best work like ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’, ‘International’ and ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Dazzle Ships’ sold poorly on release. The band were strictly A&R’ed after that and never the same again, but this fractured nautical journey has since been vindicated as an experimental landmark.

‘Dazzle Ships’ was released as V2261


RYUICHI SAKAMOTO Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983)

sakamoto-merry-christmas-mr-lawrenceBeing the best looking member of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, it was almost inevitable that Sakamoto San would turn to acting. His first role was alongside none other than David Bowie in ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ and with it came his soundtrack. The main title theme tune resonated with emotion and traditional melody, even without the voice of David Sylvian whose dulcet tones featured on the single version retitled ‘Forbidden Colours’ while ‘The Seed & the Sower’ was also a highlight.

‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ was released as V2276


CHINA CRISIS Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2 (1983)

Produced by Mike Howlett, ‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ allowed CHINA CRISIS to deliver a more cohesive album following the four producers who steered their debut ‘Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms – Some People Think It’s Fun To Entertain’! Best known for the brilliant Emulator laced hit single ‘Wishful Thinking’, the album is much more than that with melancholic synth melodies and woodwind counterpoints over a combination of real and programmed rhythm sections.

‘Working With Fire & Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume 2’ was released as V2286


DAVID SYLVIAN Brilliant Trees (1984)

david_sylvian_brilliant_treesBy 1984, Sylvian had a lucrative solo deal that gave him total artistic control. Side one of his debut solo offering adopted more of a laid back jazz feel as on ‘The Ink in the Well’ and ‘Red Guitar’. Meanwhile the second side had synthetic Fourth World overtones with avant garde trumpetist Jon Hassell and sound painter Holger Czukay as willing conspirators, with echoes of Sylvian’s previous work with JAPAN in the funky ‘Pulling Punches’ and the emotive ‘Weathered Wall’.

‘Brilliant Trees’ was released as V2290


BRIAN ENO Thursday Afternoon (1985)

eno-thursdayafternoonWhen CD was launched, BRIAN ENO’s inquisitivity asked: “what can be done now that could not be done before? What kinds of music does that suggest?”. ‘Thursday Afternoon’ was a 61 minute ambient journey that could be listened to uninterrupted on CD and the lack of surface noise meant it could also be very quiet. Using a Yamaha DX7 and minimal sustained piano, it soundtracked video paintings of the model Christine Alicino in vertical portrait format, so the TV had to be turned on its side to view it!

‘Thursday Afternoon’ was released as EGCD64


PHILIP OAKEY & GIORGIO MORODER Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (1985)

‘Together in Electric Dreams’ did better than any singles from THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s lukewarm ‘Hysteria’ album. So Virgin swiftly dispatched Oakey to record an album with Moroder and it remains one of the most under rated pieces of work that either party has been involved in. The segued first side was a total delight featuring the rousing ‘Why Must The Show Go On?’ while the Donna Summer aping ‘Brand New Love (Take A Chance)’ was another highlight, along with the stupendous ‘Now’ on side two.

‘Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder’ was released as V2351


THE BLUE NILE Hats (1989)

The Blue Nile hatsWhenever THE BLUE NILE are mentioned, it’s their 1983 album ‘A Walk Across The Rooftops’ that is always discussed in breathless awe. But actually, the follow-up ‘Hats’ is the trio’s crowning glory. Both albums were licensed to Virgin Records through a deal with Linn, the high quality Hi-Fi manufacturer. ‘Hats’ featured more synthesizers and drum machines. With hopeless romanticism and rainy drama, the glorious centrepieces were ‘Headlights On The Parade’ and ‘The Downtown Lights’.

‘Hats’ was released as LKH2



fsol_lifeformsTHE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON became flag bearers of avant garde electronic music and seen as successors to TANGERINE DREAM and BRIAN ENO. Signing to Virgin in 1992, the duo invested in some Akai S9000 samplers and given free rein to experiment, resulting in the complex sweeps and rhythmical collages of ‘Lifeforms’. A double opus of downtempo electronic soundscapes, the influence of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop loomed heavy in the sonic playground.

‘Lifeforms’ was released as V2722


MASSIVE ATTACK Mezzanine (1998)

Mezzanine-Massive-AttackDespite band relations being at an all-time low, MASSIVE ATTACK produced some of their finest work on ‘Mezzanine’. With dark undercurrents and eerie atmospherics, the album’s highpoints featured the vocals of COCTEAU TWINS’ Elizabeth Fraser on the hit single ‘Teardrop’ and the spy drama magnificence of ‘Black Milk’… Heavy on samples, the collective were sued for the unauthorised use of MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND’s 1972 song ‘Tribute’ on ‘Black Milk’!

‘Mezzanine’ was released as WBRCD4


Text by Chi Ming Lai
20th August 2013, updated 18th February 2018

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