The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
‘Zeitgeber’ is the debut album by DREAM CONTROL, a cosmic journey through audio and time over ten compositions and improvisations of varying length and tempo.
Comprising of Zeus B Held, legendary producer and keyboardist with BIRTH CONTROL and one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder, the pair have united to construct their own musical adventure based on chosen planetary or molecular tunings which differ from the usual concert pitch.
The concept is known as Die Kosmische Oktave, or “Cosmic Octave”; discovered by Swiss mathematician and musicologist Hans Cousto, it states a link between different kinds of periodically occurring natural phenomena, such as the orbit of the planets, the weather, colours, rhythms and tones, thus affirming a harmony between life and the cycles of the cosmos, rhythms, sounds, colours and atoms.
Held told The Electricity Club:“After I experienced the difference to the standard concert pitch, I was happy to do the entire ‘Zeitgeber’ album with this method. And yes, you can hear the difference”.
So each track on ‘Zeitgeber’ has been constructed and tuned to a particular planet’s unique parameters and characteristics. The end result is a largely uptempo electronic record that could potentially satisfy the ears of proggers and the feet of clubbers.
Opening track ‘Eyes & Ears’ begins with an organ-led run that will keep any lover of early German kosmische music happy before it kicks in at a pumping 127.6 BPM with abstract vocoder and enigmatic vocals from Anne Zeides. Things get even faster on ‘Time Out’ at 132.4 BPM, a bubbling thrust of robotic escapism before things take a breather on ‘Go Forward…’
Then things speed up again with ‘To Tomoro’, a frantic burst of progressive trance that clocks in at a mighty 138 BPM and could be mistaken for a collaboration between Jean-Michel Jarre and Ferry Corsten. Continuing with the transient dance vibe but at 127.6 BPM, ‘Frozen Boumme’ adds piano while a fabulous barrage of spacey sequences provide a hypnotic effect.
The superb ‘Kant Can Dance’ comes from Held’s ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ project and is almost pop music compared to what has already been appeared. Bolstered by the throat singing of Kolja Simon, vocal overtones of Felix Mönnich and the return of Anne Zeides, it comes over like an artier Giorgio Moroder in outer space. Utilising a similar palette of sounds, ‘Tomaga’ also throws in some ivory tinkling in a classical style for an unusual blend of aural cultures.
Throughout ‘Zeitgeber’, there is some superb keyboard playing by Held and Schroyder to provide a human counterpoint to all the tightly programmed sequences and beats, something that is particularly well showcased on a brilliant housey cover of ‘Gamma Ray’ featuring some soulful vocals from Tami Williams. It’s a touching tribute by Held to his former band BIRTH CONTROL and in particular, his late colleagues Bruno Frenzel and Bernd Noske.
Reaching the sub-15 minute barrier, both ‘Doors Of Perception’ and ‘Blick Aus Meinem Fenster’ will satisfy enthusiasts of TANGERINE DREAM with their almost spiritual drifts into sound sculpture. They could in fact make up an album on their own and this highlights what could be the one of criticism of ‘Zeitgeber’, that it is perhaps overlong and attempts to fit too much into one body of work? With an abridged six track vinyl edition planned, it will be interesting as to how that is realised.
Certainly ‘Zeitbeger’ could probably do with being shorter but as far as quality and concept go, the debut from DREAM CONTROL is up there in a year which has seen impressive albums by German artists such as QUAESCHNING & SCHNAUSS, RHEINGOLD, DJ HELL and 2RAUMWOHNUNG.
ZEUS B HELD is the veteran German producer and remixer who has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.
Making his name as a keyboard player in the progressive rock band BIRTH CONTROL, he later progressed as a session musician, solo artist and producer. His vocoder layered cover of THE BEATLES’ ‘Fool On The Hill’ became a favourite of Belgian sibling duo SOULWAX.
His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became an underground club favourite.
As a result, he worked with the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN. Other acts who benefited from his musicality and sound design were MEN WITHOUT HATS, SPEAR OF DESTINY, TRANSVISION VAMP and NINA HAGEN.
Later, Held moved into more jazzy grooves and while resident in Australia, he led a World Music collective featuring Aboriginal musicians and released an album called ‘Digital Dreaming’. He returned to electronic music in 2015 with the release of ‘Logic of Coincidence’ via Les Disques du Crépuscule, a largely ambient imaginary film soundtrack.
Almost simultaneously, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder to form the appropriately named DREAM CONTROL. The pair are releasing their first album ‘Zeitgeber’, a largely uptempo electronic record that could potentially satisfy the headspaces of proggers and the feet of clubbers.
While in the UK on a short promotional trip for ‘Zeitgeber’, ZEUS B HELD kindly stopped for coffee to chat to The Electricity Club about DREAM CONTROL and his vast production portfolio.
You took a break into jazz and world music, what has brought you back into working in electronic pop again?
After I left England in 2003, I did a few different things like working around the ZKM Karlsruhe on more theoretical aspects of music and teaching.
Call this lecturing “transfer of knowledge” which is ok and I still do it, but I am more interested in making music.
In 2013, I had four weeks in Japan where I locked myself away with a couple of synthesizers; I really enjoyed that and rediscovered that it was the core of what I do best and what I want to do. This is what became ‘Logic Of Coincidence’.
Did the improvements in digital technology make your return much easier?
Not really, because the actual physical hands-on experience when you work with sequencers, moving sliders and twiddling knobs is a much more sensual action than if you programme it or do it with a mouse. I think there’s a big difference, like between virtual and real action-response.
I started the album with lots of virtual instruments, a master keyboard and a Moog Source. Then I replaced them slowly and as I was doing this, it confirmed my thoughts about the differences between the virtual and real thing.
I remember a time when I was a bit tired of those sounds, not realising that these sounds were the signature of what I’ve been doing! And it took a few years for me to realise those are my tools! And that’s what happened in the solitude of my Japanese hut…
What synths do you have?
I still have a Minimoog, Moog Source, Prophet VS, Oberheim 4 Voice, PPG wave, Korg Prophecy and through Steve, I got access to the Memory Moog which is an amazing machine.
I also have a collection of rack mounted synths including a Nordlead and an Oberheim DBX1.
But there are some instruments which I sold – that I shouldn’t have, but there you go…
Which ones do you regret selling then?
Oh, the Polymoog and the ARP 2600 which I am looking to getting back, or something similar. I went to this year’s Superbooth in Berlin and I could see there is a new wave of old style analogue synths coming up from all over the world; it’s been a really good experience to meet so many other synthesizer freaks.
What is the direction you are taking in DREAM CONTROL, how different is it from ‘Logic Of Coincidence’?
It was amazing that Steve’s and my life were running parallel without us ever meeting each other and incredibly, he also lives in Freiburg, streets away where I am now. So it happened to be another ‘Logic Of Coincidence’ *laughs*
On our first studio session, we played around with some chords and rhythms – I played various synths and piano, added some sequences and experimented with vocoder lines. It all fitted and we both really enjoyed this new form of jamming and improvising on the spot, sometimes being amazed how our individual music and sound became one… you listen, you play and you answer, you throw a ball in, it’s just playing and responding. And that is something me and Steve can do on all kind of electronic instruments. When you create music, it should be playful.
How would you describe the sound of ‘Zeitgeber’, given Steve’s history with TANGERINE DREAM and your own background?
This album has a lot of energy in it, definitely not just a dreamy ambient album. Steve introduced me to the natural law of the “Cosmic Octave”, which is a different approach to frequency and rhythm definition.
After I experienced the difference to the standard concert pitch, I was happy to do the entire ‘Zeitgeber’ album with this method. And yes, you can hear the difference. Overall it is an instrumental album with a good deal of vocoder. There is also assorted overtone singing and some other vocal elements by two female singers.
Because of our name and history, we decided to rework one TANGERINE DREAM song and one BIRTH CONTROL song ‘Gamma Ray’, although later we dropped the TD track from this album.
Is ‘Kant Can Dance’ representative of the album?
I would say yes and no! It is the existing link to my ‘Logic of Coincidence’ album, but it’s in the spirit of us both. ‘Gamma Ray’ and ‘Kant Can Dance’ are the more accessible tracks of the album. The other tracks, like for example ‘Tomaga’ are deeper journeys into sound and unknown spaces.
Although you served your apprenticeship with BIRTH CONTROL, you went solo…
BIRTH CONTROL was a progressive rock band, doing lots of gigs all over Europe, but mainly in Germany. I was always doing my 15 to 20 minute keyboard solo which actually became my first solo album! *laughs*
Slowly I was moving more into electronics, away from the EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER and DEEP PURPLE thing. By pure coincidence, I became neighbours with Conny Plank’s studio and I realised that you can do different sound work in the studio and that’s how I did my solo stuff; I discovered the vocoder which made me develop my own singing approach – and guess, I was glad not to have to deal with a singer’s ego! *laughs*
With electronic pop producers of the era like yourself, Mike Howlett, Trevor Horn, Stephen J Lipson and Steve Hillage, there appears to be this connection with progressive rock?
I am sure there is a theoretical connection, the spirit of the time. But for me, it was my own development from thinking in chords, melodies and the traditional compositional building blocks to learn how to work with sequencers, machines and multi-tracks; I remember very well when I did this 2 minute track ‘M.P.C.’ on BIRTH CONTROL’s ‘Rebirth’ album, by discovering the Mellotron. I spontaneously put strings, flute sounds and choir together and played an impressionistic piano on top, all in an hour, while the other guys were having lunch. I got so inspired by sounds and multi-tracking, I learned to understand the studio as an instrument.
You became more widely known in the UK for producing GINA X PERFORMANCE and ‘No GDM’, what was the creative dynamic between you and her?
I wanted to make an album with vocoder, drums and only synthesizers and I wanted to make it really cold, no bluesy chords or melodies, no guitar and nothing rocky. I had in mind science fiction inspired tracks, also possible songs for the ROCKETS next album. Gina was an art student and was really into cutting edge art and music.
We became a creative unit and I invited her into the studio, maybe to put some spoken words on the recordings – she developed from this, her own way of singing.
With ‘No GDM’, she wrote the lyrics in the café upstairs of the Cologne Studio Am Dom after she saw the ‘Naked Civil Servant’ film; so when she stepped in front of the microphone she transformed herself as well as the track. She put that particular life into my music, effortless and free of clichés. It was an amazing experience for both of us, but at first, nobody was interested because this was a non pigeon hole-able unheard music.
I’ll never forget when this studio mastering engineer in Cologne put the ‘Nice Mover’ album on the spectrum analyser and said “Look here at the frequencies, this can’t work! Nobody wants to listen to that!”*laughs*
But we found a little label and suddenly people started to like it. It came from three places where we had the best feedback; there was Rusty Egan and The Blitz Club, Austrian main radio where it entered the charts and Canada… this all took about a year to happen.
So this led to you coming to the UK and working with Birmingham band FASHION?
What also led me to FASHION was my vocoder production for a French / Italian band called ROCKETS. I went to the Midem, the annual music event in Cannes, to sell my first solo album and I passed this stand where I saw a video with five silver painted guys playing a slightly futuristic rock song ‘Future Woman’ using a voice box.
I thought “this would be so much better with a vocoder” and I asked to speak to their manager – after he heard my stuff, I was in. A week later, I was in Paris recording a cover of CANNED HEAT’s ‘On The Road Again’ and it became the ROCKETS’ big European hit.
FASHION heard this and also liked GINA X PERFORMANCE – so eventually a guy from Arista Records asked me to listen to their demos and I liked it.
I particularly liked it because Dee Harris, the main songwriter and front man, also played a wicked Roland guitar synth in a slightly jazz-funky way; in those days the only other guitar synth player I knew was Pat Metheny on his group’s ‘Offramp’ album.
The ‘Fabrique’ album was recorded in Cologne, Paris and London, it was nicely developed over six months.
You also worked on the next FASHION album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ which closed with the brilliant instrumental title track…
Well… ‘Twilight Of Idols’ was FASHION Mark 2, it’s OK, but for me it was a compromise. The second version of FASHION with Alan Darby on guitar and vocals and songs like ‘Hurricane’, for me, it was stylistically too close to the overcrowded field of mainstream rock.
FASHION’s first album with Dee Harris was his subtle funk and jazzy chord structures, influenced by American songwriting and this particular mixture of electronics from me applying my Germanic sequencers. Lately, 35 years after its making, I have been asked to overhaul ‘Fabrique’ with Dee Harris, so I can assure that we’ll eventually be working on that.
At one point, FASHION were rated higher than DURAN DURAN on the Birmingham scene but of course, it was DURAN DURAN who broke big, what’s your take on it?
In Birmingham, FASHION and DURAN DURAN were rehearsing in the same building when I got involved. DURAN DURAN were already ahead in the game, having a few singles out with EMI while FASHION were just entering the major pop arena. As much as I like Mr Simon Le Bon, I think Dee Harris was a different calibre as a vocalist – but there you go, the DURAN DURAN guys just went a fair bit faster, were better managed and they administered one hit after another!
Unfortunately after ‘Fabrique’ was finished, some chemical reaction in certain brains caused the ‘Fabrique’ line-up to collapse and the album had to be buried by Arista. Their German and American labels hugely believed in the group and things could have been different, but FASHION didn’t really enter the league they should have been in.
How did working with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Golden Section’ come about?
I was a big fan of John’s ‘Metamatic’ album. He had the same publisher as GINA X who also was his manager. John had been working with Mike Howlett, but it wasn’t working out for various reasons… and he had discovered THE BEATLES! *laughs*
I told John that it should be more about sound and noisy abstract tunes but he wanted melodies with second and third harmonies; we were working in his studio The Garden in Shoreditch and it was his solo album, so I was there to make his vision happen.
I guess our collaboration was not a very successful one as he pulled too far away from his roots, something that he later realised “ooops”! I helped him but I was torn, I had to make the best out of it. I wanted to bin songs and put more sequencers on others as it would have been more suitable and appreciated by his existing fan base, but he galloped into ‘The Golden Section’.
John is a multi-talented, very intelligent artist and we met at an interesting moment in our lives, but we didn’t make the kind of mutual masterpiece which we could have done.
You then went on to producing DEAD OR ALIVE, your work with them had an amazing rhythmic element to it, how did you achieve that?
They loved Patrick Cowley and Sylvester, that uptempo HI-NRG gay disco. I often went to the Heaven club during those days and listened to that music, I really liked this irresistible drive and energy.
They brought many of those elements to the table themselves. We started to work on ‘Sophisticated Boom Boom’ with Wayne Hussey on guitar, thus getting a slightly gothic element which I quite liked.
But Wayne and his guitar were sacked relatively early during the production, you can hear his guitar best on the first single ‘Misty Circles’.
For me, producing DEAD OR ALIVE was a mixture of sound-styling as well as making sure Pete Burns’ mighty vocal performance had the right backing. We got on fine, but there were moments when we argued about what’s best for the arrangement and dynamics. Sometimes I offered ten ideas and they’d take one and a half… I guess that’s part of the producing process…
So in DEAD OR ALVE, had the sequence programming been done by Tim Lever and you were sweetening it for the final recording, or were you redoing it?
It was a bit of both, some tracks came with some basic sequences to start with, others we started from scratch. I brought along my Moog and ARP 2600 to fill up the space.
For drums we used mainly the Oberheim DMX, a Linn Drum and sounds from the Akai S1000. We also had a Korg drum machine but they didn’t like the TR808; it’s funny, when I worked with KILLING JOKE, they hated the 808 as well.
After all these British artists, what was it like to work with a German act like DIE KRUPPS in 1985?
With JOHN FOXX and DEAD OR ALIVE, we had more open ended concepts. DIE KRUPPS were more German, much more “korrekt” and “…it’s all been worked out!”*laughs*
They pretty much had worked out how their tracks should be structured but by playing around with the Fairlight, we found space for new ideas and sounds. In the end, a lot of the ‘Entering The Arena’ album was Fairlight based.
Listening back to it now, I feel we were close to a real classic. And somehow we wanted to hold our own against PROPAGANDA, but this was tricky because PROPAGANDA’s production budget was in a different range
We had a limited budget and the LP was released by the Virgin sub-label Statik, whose claim to fame was MEN WITHOUT HATS who I later worked with.
How did you find the move into the world of the Fairlight and digital in general?
I wanted to master the Fairlight and luckily enough, Octave Hire, a London rental company based in the Docklands, left one with me at my basement flat in Earls Court when it wasn’t being used. I spent days and nights on end to dive into this new world of sampling and sequencing.
I’ll never forget how I once got stuck and someone suggested to phone this guy Hans Zimmer who was also working with one and had a studio in Fulham called The Snake Ranch. He came to my house and showed me a few tricks. When he spoke in his Bavarian accent, I realised there was another “Deutsch Musik Mann” in my London hood! *laughs*
I used the Fairlight on the last GINA X album ‘Yinglish’ and it was here when I met JJ Jeczalik, a real expert on the CMI. We made a deal: I’ll get him a few studio gigs, teach some musical basics and give him sounds and samples which went into his library – some of them ended up on the first record by THE ART OF NOISE.
But at one point, Pete Burns walked into Olympia Studios and shouted “ZEUS! YOU BASTARD, I HEARD MY VOICE ON THE ART OF NOISE, I KNOW IT’S ME!”… I replied “it’s impossible”, but thought to myself “oh sh*t, it could well be!”
You had a bit of a remix period, one was ‘Big In Japan’ by ALPHAVILLE…
ALPHAVILLE used an edit of my 12 inch remix for the normal 7 inch… I mixed it at a studio in Queensway with the engineer Femi Jiya, who later worked with PRINCE. This music wasn’t exactly funky and so we worked with repeat echoes and dropped in a fretless bass sound from a Roland D50. Next door was ASWAD, the reggae band – you could smell it… so I asked them to come in and played the mix to them, they gave it the thumbs down! *laughs*
On your remix of ‘Ghostdancing’ for SIMPLE MINDS, you gave space to the rhythm section…
SIMPLE MINDS then had a drummer I did some studio work with before, Mel Gaynor… he also played on an unreleased track I produced with Ian Burden from THE HUMAN LEAGUE, called ‘She’s Always On The Dancefloor’. I studied the parts and played around with the drums because I really enjoyed what Mel Gaynor did. He was a timing and groove master who beat every drum machine.
How did you feel when you were asked to do the ‘E Reg remix’ of GARY NUMAN’s ‘Cars’ in 1987?
I was a big GARY NUMAN fan, I saw him in 1980 in Düsseldorf at the Philipshalle… guess who was the support act? SIMPLE MINDS and they played on about four square feet of stage because GARY NUMAN had such a huge stage set up!
Beggars Banquet asked me to remix ‘Cars’ and I was already booked and had to squeeze it in. So I worked 20 hours non-stop on it. This was when the Roland D50 came out and if you listen to my remix, it’s full of those sounds! I enjoyed doing it because it’s a great song, I love his voice, the dynamics of the sounds work brilliantly with Gary’s melodies. I saw my job to get more excitement and shape into the track as well as doing an extended version. ARMAND VAN HELDEN actually sampled parts of my remix for ‘Koochy’!
Four weeks later it was out, doing really well and I was invited to a GARY NUMAN concert, I sat next to his dad… I looked on stage and there were five D50s! *laughs*
Your work with TRANSVISION VAMP was fascinating in that you used technology to make an album sound punk…
I worked closely with their label and they wanted a record, like you could have a cup of tea to… well, they didn’t actually say that but it was how I translated it, “pop punk”.
The first album ‘Pop Art’ took nearly two years and the band grew during its making; they had started to work on demos with Duncan Bridgeman who also did most of the pre-production; after a few tracks into the actual recording sessions, I was asked to revisit the production and arrangements.
I got a chance to enrich the sounds and take care of the mixing. A few tracks I did from scratch and started with an electronic song frame. Especially ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’, I’ll never forget when I was doing the arrangement, Wendy James walked in and screamed at me “THAT SOUNDS LIKE F*CKING HOWARD JONES, I HATE IT!” and she stormed out of the studio. I yelled “wait, we’re going to stick the guitars on and it will work!” which is exactly what happened. So yes, in the end most of the album sounded a good mixture between electronic versus rough and punk.
Of course, this was in the days before Melodyne and Autotune… when Wendy sang the soul out of her guts and it wasn’t quite right, we would have to record up to thirty tracks of vocals and do compilations of the takes – and in the end it sounded like one convincingly performed take, which would have to grab the listener. She sold that band!
Before that, there was the aborted CLARE GROGAN album that you did, what happened there?
With Clare, we were forced for too much in a little amount of time. I couldn’t really open her up musically, it was like being whacked in with the record company watching… before I could sit back and analyse, it was all finished. It was done in a rush, that was a pity. With her voice, we should have done something a bit more whacky, something more off the wall.
I had the same experience when I was paired with Annabella Lwin from BOW WOW WOW. It could have been brilliant but it was squeezed into three weeks trying to record ok songs. I couldn’t find her best musical language, you need time when you develop something new. With TRANSVISION VAMP, we had eighteen months and it grew. It all started when Nick met Wendy and said “do you want to be a rock star?”, she said “yes” and they worked on it.
This record company pressure would drive any normal person crazy?
Yes, there’s a danger, you’d better have strong nerves and a good sense of humour… and you have to avoid ending up doing paid crap!
Is that why there has been such a big gap in your production work after NINA HAGEN in 1991 ?
It coincided with a breakdown of my private life. Whether it was too much time spent in the studio or a typical mid-life crisis, whatever! It happened!
So I had a desire to be free, travel the world – I ended up in Australia, doing music there with Aborigines and playing concerts in the middle of nature. That’s when I recorded my “audio postcard of down under” called ‘Digital Dreaming’.
All in all I took ten years off and then I didn’t come back easily. I did film and ad music and that didn’t really satisfy me. So I had a rethink, did workshops and coaching, gave lectures – call it “knowledge transfer” – but again, this was not what I wanted to do.
I realised I feel most comfortable doing music in the studio or on stage. And by now, as much as I’m an optimist, I have given up on the idea of immortality *laughs*
I would love to do more DREAM CONTROL concerts, events and festivals. I still want to play and entertain people – their ears, their eyes and their imagination. In the studio I would like to do more songwriting and remixes; in an ideal world I’d always work with new inspiring equipment and learn how to master it.
I always enjoy listening to music but I am a difficult consumer. For pleasure I’m often listening to more jazz based music, but occasionally, a mega exciting track by the likes of JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE or JUSTIN BIEBER will knock me out and I applaud. Apart from a song’s composition, I always want to know how it is done the way it sounds – from the musical & frequency arrangement to the immaculate mastering.
Music doesn’t stop… music keeps me alive
The Electricity Club give its grateful thanks to ZEUS B HELD
Zeus B Held may be not as well-known as Giorgio Moroder, Conny Plank, Martin Rushent, Mike Howlett and Colin Thurston, but the German producer has been a key presence in the development of electronic pop music.
Making his name as a keyboard player in the German rock band BIRTH CONTROL, the experience allowed Zeus B Held to progress as a session musician and producer who the NME later described as being able to combine “electronic Teutonic sounds with a soulful sensibility for melodic expression”.
Often considered an artier counterpart to Giorgio Moroder, Held too embarked on a solo career.
His production breakthrough came from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became a club favourite within the New Romantic movement. This led to a move to London to further his career.
At the height of the synth assisted pop boom in Europe, Held was producing the likes of FASHION, JOHN FOXX, DEAD OR ALIVE and DIE KRUPPS while also remixing ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and GARY NUMAN.
In 1995, Held wrote and recorded the music for a worldwide advertising campaign for Swatch while in more recent times, he has tended to work in more jazz inclined fields involving big band orchestras and a World Music collective who released an album entitled ‘Digital Dreaming’.
But then in 2014, he teamed up with former TANGERINE DREAM member Steve Schroyder in a new electronic project appropriately named DREAM CONTROL.
Without doubt deserving greater recognition for his adventures in modern recording, The Electricity Club looks back at eighteen of his works in chronological order, with a restriction of one track per artist moniker…
ZEUS Fool On The Hill (1978)
Having spent six years as a keyboard player BIRTH CONTROL, Zeus B Held ventured solo and delivered this spacey vocodered cover of THE BEATLES favourite for his debut solo album ‘Zeus’ Amusement’ on Brain Records, home to kosmische acts like CLUSTER, NEU! and KLAUS SCHULZE. Released as a single, ‘Fool On The Hill’ showcased his interest in new technologies while maintaining a traditional and widely recognisable musical aesthetic.
Teaming up with the androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine, ‘No GDM’ was written in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song became a regular staple of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.
When Lord Foxx of Chorley briefly went pop, he teamed up with Zeus B Held for one of the most accessible albums of his career in ‘The Golden Section’. With its emphasis on a band feel and Foxx playing more electric guitar, some critics accused him of starting to sound like ULTRAVOX again. ‘My Wild Love’ was the powerful, in-yer-face opening to the long player. Foxx himself later remarked the album was a mistake as he tried to “fit too many favourite things together”.
At the height of his fame, Pete Burns came over looking like a later period Gina Kikoine, so it was not entirely surprising that when DEAD OR ALIVE decided to pursue a more electronic dance direction, Zeus B Held would come on board as a willing conspirator. This cover version of KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND’s classic disco tune was the breakthrough, combining precise programming and a brass section with live bass and percussion, plus the vocal colossus that was Burns.
A beautiful long instrumental reminiscent of VANGELIS, there were some Spanish and progressive guitar inflections thrown into Held’s electronic mix. FASHION were at one time in their home city of Birmingham considered more likely to break than DURAN DURAN. But despite early promise with moody funk laden songs such as ‘Love Shadow’, the departure of ‘Frabrique’ era frontman Dee Harris and line-up changes ensured momentum would be lost trying to regain the dynamic chemistry of the group.
Available on the album ‘Twilight Of Idols’ via Cherry Red
A HI-NRG disco take on the provocative tune penned by Serge Gainsbourg and made famous by Brigitte Bardot, Gina Kikoine returned in 1984 with a less ambiguous image for her solo album debut ‘Yinglish’, although Held was still holding the production reins. While Held and Kikoine wrote most of the album together, it was also noted for featuring another cover in THE BEATLES ‘Drive My Car’.
Available on the album ‘Yinglish’ via LTM Recordings
Named after a 1952 sci-fi novel by Raymond Jones, THIS ISLAND EARTH were led by songwriter John Hawkins and secured a deal with Magnet Records. They were teamed with Zeus B Held to record two singles, the first of which ‘See That Glow’ was catchy enough to secure BBC radio airplay. Alas the single stalled in the UK chart at No47 in late 1984 and after another Held produced song ‘Take Me To The Fire’ failed to chart, that was it from the band…
Originally released by Magnet Records, currently unavailable
Zeus B Held was becoming a master of the 12 inch extended remix and his treatment of ALPHAVILLE’s breakthrough tune put the mighty Linn Drum programming centre stage while working round the song’s catchy verse and chorus. Reversed tape elements, random blips and what was to become Held’s trademark breakdown were added to the seven minute extension, along with a fretless bass not heard on the original, no doubt in a cheeky reference to the band JAPAN.
Despite the dramatic intro, ‘Risk’ was a comparatively pop-oriented offering from the Düsseldorf industrialists with brassy synth tones and orchestral samples coming over like DAF fronting DEAD OR ALIVE. In a bizarre twist, it even featured Mel Gaynor from SIMPLE MINDS on drums! The parent album ‘Entering The Arena’, also produced by Held, offered much of the same with ‘Gladiators’ another of the album’s highlights.
Available on the album ‘Entering The Arena’ via Energy Rekords
SIMPLE MINDS Ghostdancing – Special Extended 12″ Remix (1986)
As was usual with Zeus B Held’s remixes, he often cleaned up the sound and made the percussive elements sharper. On the extended version of ‘Ghostdancing’, the song’s roots in the more Eurocentric ‘I Travel’ were highlighted as sequencers and reverb were added, along with a building middle eight breakdown. This release in support of Amnesty International also happened to be the first ever CD single issued on Virgin Records.
In his WAH! days, Wylie proved he could spring an anthemic chorus as on songs like ‘The Story Of The Blues’ and ‘Come Back’. His debut solo single ‘Sinful!’ was an epic widescreen cacophony of grand throbbing electronics, massed synthetic chorals and Wylie’s own urgent vocal delivery. While it was produced by Ian Ritchie, Zeus B Held gave the track a vital remix and ended up producing three further songs on the eventual ‘Sinful!’ album.
Available on the album ‘Sinful!’ via Siren Records
The synth propelled new wave of ‘Love Bomb’ was the former ALTERED IMAGES singer’s debut single. Unfortunately, as the title suggested, it indeed did bomb and the album ‘Trash Mad’ recorded with Held was never released. While Miss Grogan did not have the feisty aggression to pull off a tune that was aimed squarely at the American market, Zeus B Held’s production on ‘Love Bomb’ now sounds like a blueprint for TRANSVISION VAMP.
Originally released by London Records, currently unavailable
A commentary from the Doroschuk brothers on the ups and downs of fame, while more organic than ‘The Safety Dance’, ‘Pop Goes the World’ produced by Zeus B Held featured a fair smattering of synths and reached No1 in Austria. The parent album of the same name went platinum in the band’s homeland of Canada. The song itself achieved an enhancement to its longevity when it later appeared in a TV advert for Tide laundry detergent pods in 2012.
Coinciding with the new E registration car number plates of that year, Zeus B Held added some digital clangs, pitched swirls and guitars to Numan’s signature synth classic which undoubtedly boosted its longevity. Meanwhile the extended version maximised Ced Sharpley’s drums by isolating them at the start of an impressively arranged mid-song breakdown. Amazingly, the radio edit of Held’s remix has actually been a UK Top 20 hit single twice in its own right, although it was retitled ‘The Premier Mix’ in 1996.
Radio edit available on the GARY NUMAN album ‘Premier Hits’ via Beggars Banquet
Kirk Brandon was never the happiest fellow in the world and ‘Never Take Me Alive’ produced by Held was possibly SPEAR OF DESTINY’s angry zenith. A mix of acoustic guitar, fretless bass, programmed percussion, synthetic goth choir and modern production values gave SPEAR OF DESTINY their biggest hit in a period when THE CURE, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE SISTERS OF MERCY, THE CULT and THE MISSION ensured that sombre spectre of goth shone brightly in the UK singles chart for a time.
Available on the SPEAR OF DESTINY album ‘Outland’ via 10 Records
Just as Mutt Lange had been very clever in using state-of-the-art technology to make DEF LEPPARD’s ‘Hysteria’ sound heavy metal, Zeus B Held achieved the same in making his heavily synthesized productions for TRANSVISION VAMP sound punk. A catchy tune arranged by Duncan Bridgeman who had worked with JOHN FOXX on ‘The Garden’ and been a member of jazz funkers I-LEVEL, ‘I Want Your Love’ thrust singer Wendy James into the limelight for her 15 minutes of fame.
Available on the album ‘Pop Art’ via Universal Music
The East Berlin born singer and actress started her musical life in the band AUTOMOBIL, but released her first album with the NINA HAGEN BAND in 1978. Maintaining her cult popularity as a punk icon, ‘Hold Me’ was from her solo 1989 album debut proper, produced by Held. An outlandish cover of a traditional gospel song, the arrangement will no doubt have upset purists with its synthetic backing, rock guitars and Hagen’s own theatrical vocal histrionics.
Available on the NINA HAGEN album ‘Nina Hagen’ via Mercury Records
ZEUS B HELD Kant Can Dance – Dream Control Mix (2015)
‘Logic Of Coincidence’ was Held’s most recent solo record and largely a cinematic, almost ambient imaginary film soundtrack. While the album was perhaps not wholly representative of Held’s past pop exploits, his artier Moroder template notably appeared on ‘Kant Can’t Dance’. While seeming a bit out of place on the album, its electronic disco friendly template delighted fans of his remix work during his production heyday, especially in its bonus DREAM CONTROL incarnation.