As a gesture of solidarity with fellow humans, DUBSTAR present ‘Hygiene Strip’.
“’Hygiene Strip’ was created at the height of the 2020 UK lockdown” said Sarah Blackwood to The Electricity Club, “The writing, recording and video had to be done remotely, and it is the first collaboration with Stephen Hague and DUBSTAR to be released since the ’90s.”
Written by Sarah Blackwood, Chris Wilkie and Stephen Hague, the song itself is classic DUBSTAR and characterised by Blackwood’s distinctively forlorn vocal presence. But there is also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS looming to offer some hope in the haze of melancholy.
Hygiene strips of course have become common place now to remind the population of social distancing but of course, they could also be metaphorically referring to the removal of personal protective clothing for sterilisation or the role of face coverings, actions that ultimately affect life.
The self-made lyric video is a striking monochromatic affair highlighting the emotional tension and psychological effects of the worldwide lockdown; it concludes with Miss Blackwood starkly masking up…
Stephen Hague produced DUBSTAR’s first two albums ‘Disgraceful’ and ‘Goodbye’ as well as their biggest hit singles ‘Stars’ and ‘Not So Manic Now’. Now domiciled on the South Coast of England, the American became best known for working with OMD, PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER and ERASURE.
While Hague has not worked with DUBSTAR since 1997, he and Sarah Blackwood have remained in contact over the years, so a recording reunion was almost inevitable. The 2018 comeback ‘One’ was produced by Youth but while new DUBSTAR material is being written and recorded, the release schedule has yet to be confirmed.
‘Hygiene Strip’ is released as a digital single by Northern Writes
Over the last 10 years, The Electricity Club has been a voice for the discerning enthusiast of electronic pop.
With a balancing act of featuring the classic pioneers of the past alongside the emergent new talent for the future, The Electricity Club has become well known for its interviews and reviews, asking the questions people have always wanted to ask while celebrating the continuing development of the synthesizer in popular music. All this while holding to account those who deliver below expectations, assuring the listener that if they are perhaps not hearing the genius that some devoted fans are declaring, then The Electricity Club is there to assist in affirming or denying that assessment.
But when artists do deliver, they tend to build a strong relationship with The Electricity Club. So with the site celebrating its first 10 years, presented here are greetings and messages from some people who you might know…
Rusty Egan, VISAGE
TEC is 10 years old with the synth knowledge of a 50 year old. If I can’t remember something electronic I don’t Google, I TEC!
Glenn Gregory, HEAVEN 17
The Electricity Club and its wonderful leader Chi is like the League Of Super Heroes for Electronic Music. Our future is safe in his hands.
I have been involved in electronic music making for 40 years, yet one half hour conversation with Chi makes me realise how little I know. From then to now, he’s knows!
Neil Arthur, BLANCMANGE
Chi has been brilliantly supportive of BLANCMANGE, for which I am very grateful. We’ve always managed to have a good laugh during our interviews, as he would ask me about the darkness and gloom lying within a given BLANCMANGE song! I look forward to our next chat.
The Electricity Club has a very important place and a role to play, in spreading the news of electronic music, new and old, far and wide. Here’s to the next ten years. Well done and good luck.
Gary Daly, CHINA CRISIS
Thanks for all your wonderful support Chi, so glad someone has taken the time to ask some great questions…
Sarah Blackwood, DUBSTAR
I love The Electricity Club website. It’s a treasure trove of informative articles, both a very readable historical archive and a forward looking platform for encouraging new talent. In what can be traditionally and lazily categorised as a very male dominated scene, Chi encourages great music regardless of gender and I enjoy the updated Spotify playlist if I’m ever stuck for what to listen to whilst running.
As regards interviews, it’s always enjoyable – Chi is a bit too easy to talk to and his passion for music and synth geekery shines through – heaven forbid you try sneaking a (cleared) sample past him, he will spot it!
Is it 10 years already? Happy birthday TEC!
Chris Payne, DRAMATIS
With 18,000 likes and 12,000 Facebook followers; The Electricity Club under the guidance of its purveyor Chi Ming Lai, has become the leading place for the Electronic Music fan. Intelligent, well written and well researched journalism with a great team of writers presenting an array of brilliant fascinating new acts (and some older ones as well!), hopefully it will continue for at least another 10 years.
Tracy Howe, RATIONAL YOUTH
Congratulations to The Electricity Club on ten years of brilliant reporting of, and support to, the electronic pop scene. TEC is the authoritative publication “of record” for fans and makers of synthpop alike and is the international rallying point and HQ for our music. We look forward to many more years of in-depth interviews and probing articles, all in the beautifully written TEC style. Happy birthday TEC!
Mark White, ABC + VICE VERSA
Chi Ming Lai and Paul Boddy are two of the most learned, nay, erudite music journalists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, a rare experience indeed to be quizzed by a pair who know their onions. And unusual integrity. Chi promised me if we asked, he would turn off the tape recorder and it would never appear in print. And has been true to his word. This has literally never happened in my career. Also these two chaps are bloody good fun. I laughed til I cried. Go see the movie!
Rob Dean, JAPAN
10 years of The Electricity Club? Only one for me (yes, I know…), but it’s heartening to know that Chi and the crew have created a site so cutting edge for us die-hard fans of electronica. Having read the highly entertaining VICE VERSA chaps interview, I was delighted to be asked to do my own, confident that the questions would be thoughtful and intelligent and yes, a little bit probing too. Here’s to the next 10 and thank you!
Richard Silverthorn, MESH
On several occasions I have done interviews for The Electricity Club. Every time I felt like they actually cared about the music and scene and put some educated thought into the questions. It’s good to feel that enthusiasm.
Tom Shear, ASSEMBLAGE 23
Congratulations on 10 years of covering and supporting the scene! Here’s to another 10 and beyond…
Sophie Sarigiannidou, MARSHEAUX
I first met Chi at Sparrowhawk Hotel, Burnley in November 2000 for an OMD convention. It took me 13 hours to reach by train to Burnley from London due to bad weather.
I saw him playing live (!!!!) with his covers band THE MESSERSCHMITT TWINS, they were having their time of their life, dancing and singing, so so happy! Us too of course!! From that moment on we became friends.
Then he supported our band MARSHEAUX from the very early beginning and I thank him a lot for that! It’s always great having Chi asking questions for interviews . We as a band had our best interviews with The Electricity Club! We spent a lot of hours talking about the history of electronic music and the future of synthpop. My favourite articles on TEC are the “A Beginners Guide To…” series, you have a lot to learn from these pages!!! Happy Anniversary Chi, we’ve indeed had 10 amazing years with TEC. I hope and wish the next 10 to be even better.
Erik Stein, CULT WITH NO NAME
The Electricity Club elected not to review earlier CWNN albums, so we just had to keep making better and better records until they would finally relent. They finally gave in from album number 7 onwards, and it was well worth the wait. The writing was spot on and not a single DEPECHE MODE reference in sight.
Mark Reeder, MFS BERLIN
Congratulations and a very Happy 10th Birthday TEC! Over the past 10 years, The Electricity Club website has developed into becoming the leading website for all kinds of electronic synthpop music. It has become a familiar friend, because it is something I can personally identify with, as it is maintained by fans, for fans.
However, it is not only commendable, but can also be quite critical too, and that is a rare balancing act in the contemporary media world. It has been a great source of regular electronic music information. I have discovered and re-discovered many wonderful electronic artists, and regularly devour the in-depth interviews and features.
Through TEC, I have been introduced to and worked with some of the wonderful artists presented on your pages, such as QUEEN OF HEARTS or MARSHEAUX and in return, it has supported my work, my label and my artists too, and I thank them for that! We can all celebrate ten years of TEC and together, look forward to the next 10 years of inspiring electronic music.
Per Aksel Lundgreen, SUB CULTURE RECORDS
The Electricity Club is a highly knowledgeable and very passionate site! They are digging out rarities from the past as well as exploring and discovering new acts, giving them attention and writing about them often before anybody else around have even heard of them.
This makes TEC a very interesting page to follow, as their in-depth stories about older bands “missing in action” as well as the latest stuff “in the scene” gets perfectly mixed together, giving you all you want basically in a one-stop-site for everything electronic. I also love the way they give attention to unsigned / self-released bands and small indie-labels, giving everybody a fair chance as long as the music is good enough. Congrats on the 10th Anniversary, well deserved!
Jane Caley aka Anais Neon, VILE ELECTRODES
When VILE ELECTRODES were just starting out, we heard through the Facebook grapevine about a new electronic music blog called The Electricity Club. We had a London gig coming up, and had recently made a promo video for our song ‘Deep Red’, so we dropped them an email about both, not expecting to hear back, since we were virtually unknown. However it transpired they really liked our sound, likening us to “Client B born and raised in the Home Counties fronting Dindisc-era ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK”.
The Electricity Club subsequently gave this very description to Andy McCluskey, which piqued his interest such that he checked out our music. We were invited to tour Germany with OMD as a direct result!
George Geranios, UNDO RECORDS
Chi is a really rare quality of a man. He is passionate about music which is so obvious of course while reading The Electricity Club. Through our mutual love for OMD, we discovered that we have the same musical taste. TEC helped us promote all of Undo Records projects and finally we ended collaborating and releasing this brilliant TEC double CD compilation! Chi, I wish you health and to continue writing the best music texts in the industry!!
Adam Cresswell, HAPPY ROBOTS RECORDS
Some people say The Electricity Club doesn’t support the scene but I’ve not found that to be the case; having been a part of two TEC gigs and the recent CD, I know how much blood, sweat and tears they put into what they do. TEC might get a few people’s back-up, but they know their stuff when it comes to synth-driven music and I’m massively grateful that they have supported so many Happy Robots artists since 2010.
Stuart McLaren, OUTLAND
It’s no secret that the burgeoning new synthwave genre shares a common history with the great synthesizer acts and pioneers of the 80s, like Dolby, Jones, Luscombe, Wilder, Daly et al who created new soundscapes with what we now define as vintage synths.
These sounds are brought back to life by pioneers in their own right like FM ATTACK, GUNSHIP, ESPEN KRAFT and BETAMAXX to name a few.
The Electricity Club and Chi Ming Lai have always been at the forefront of championing, interviewing and reviewing the luminaries of this great instrument past to present, and are likely to remain the de facto voice of the synth scene well into the future… we agree on one thing and that is FM-84’s singer Ollie Wride is deffo one to watch as a star for the future!
Paula Gilmer, TINY MAGNETIC PETS
Happy Birthday TEC. thank you for your support. You never fail to impress with your encyclopedic knowledge of synthpop. Here’s looking forward to 10 more!
Mr Normall, NUNTIUS
I’ve been following most of my favourite artists since they were brand new and often this means 30+ years, yet reading articles and interviews by The Electricity Club, I have learned every time something new about of my favourites.
Following The Electricity Club have made me paid attention to several new acts that I would likely know nothing about if they hadn’t appeared on the page.
Catrine Christensen, SOFTWAVE
An outstanding magazine supporting new and upcoming artists whom they choose carefully as they have great taste of music regarding to their huge knowledge within the synthpop genre, when it comes to their writing and promotion – there’s no one like them. Happy birthday 😘
Elena Charbila, KID MOXIE
Happy 10th birthday TEC! Your love and commitment to the synth community is unparalleled and your support has meant a lot to me on a professional but also on a personal level. Here’s to the next 10 years! 😘
Alexander Hofman aka Android, S.P.O.C.K
I’m a fan of The Electricity Club for several reasons. You showed up when I perceived the majority of the electronic scene had turned more and more harsh; as much as I can appreciate an occasional emotional outburst, I’m a happy guy and thus I’m into pop – TEC showed, and still shows me that there’s still electronic pop music being made. Good electronic pop! Which makes me glad, as I find the greater part of the generally popular darker scene to be of lower musical quality.
Moreover, TEC writes in an amazingly happy tone – remember, I’m a happy guy, so it’s right up my alley. Add the fact that TEC regularly publishes interesting articles, using intelligent and varied vocabulary, shows enormous knowledge and interest of the theme, the style, the scene – and I’m hooked. Thanks for being around – keep up the good work, it’s much needed! And congratulations – let’s grab a beer again! 🍻
So how did The Electricity Club arrive at its discerning musical ethos?
It probably all began with a very liberal and Bohemian junior school teacher named Miss Nielsen who played KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’, PINK FLOYD’s ‘Echoes’ and the soundtrack of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ to the class, with the unusual sound of all three providing an otherworldly, yet captivating listen.
Later on, various parts of the 22 minute ‘Autobahn’ track appeared on the end credits of BBC children’s drama ‘Out Of Bounds’ and opened ‘Newsround Extra’, but 1977 was to become the true Year Zero in electronic pop. With ‘Oxygène’, ‘Sound & Vision’, ‘Magic Fly’ and ‘I Feel Love’ all hitting the UK Top 3 within months of each other, this was effectively the beginning of synths designing the future.
To celebrate the 10th birthday of the site, here is a very personal list of 30 tracks that shaped The Electricity Club. These are primarily songs that solidified and expanded the interest in synth or later provided hope in the face of real music snobbery and the return of the guitar in the wake of Britpop.
There will be grumbles that the likes of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, HEAVEN 17, YAZOO, DURAN DURAN, TALK TALK, PROPAGANDA, CLIENT, RÖYKSOPP and others are not featured, and certainly if this list was a 40, they would all be included. But this list is an impulsive snapshot of The Electricity Club’s own journey in music, as opposed to being a history of electronic pop or a best of.
What? No industrial, acid house, techno or dubstep you ask? Well, that’s because The Electricity Club disliked the majority of it. While this is not always the case, the site has generally about synthpop ie pop music using synthesizers, as can be seen from this rather esteemed electronic roll of honour 😉
This is the history that the too cool for school media, who think everything jumped from KRAFTWERK to Detroit Techno in one fell swoop, don’t like to mention…
With a restriction of one track per artist moniker and presented in yearly and then alphabetical order featuring music from before the site came into being, here is why The Electricity Club is how it is…
JEAN-MICHEL JARRE Oxygène (1976)
For many including Jean-Michel Jarre, ‘Popcorn’ for their first experience of a synthpop hit and he released his own version under the moniker of THE POPCORN ORCHESTRA in 1972. But while working on his first proper full length electronic album in 1976, Jarre adapted a melodic phrase from the late Gershon Kingsley’s composition as the main theme of what was to become the project’s lead single. That composition was ‘Oxygène IV’ and the rest is history.
Exploring a “whole new school of pretension” with his new creative muse Brian Eno, ‘Sound & Vision’ saw David Bowie capture a tense European aesthetic. Utilising an uplifting rhythm guitar hook and an ARP Solina string machine, the most distinctive feature was the pitch shifted percussion, produced by Tony Visconti feeding the snare drum though an Eventide H910 Harmonizer. The half instrumental track was a taster of the approach that was to come with the half instrumental parent album ‘Low’.
SPACE was the brainchild of Didier Marouani who went under the pseudonym of Ecama and formed the collective in 1977 with Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top. Together with compatriot Jean-Michel Jarre and a certain Giorgio Moroder also in the charts, the space disco of the iconic ‘Magic Fly’ heralded the start of a new European electronic sound within the mainstream. With its catchy melody and lush accessible futurism, ‘Magic Fly’ sold millions all over the world.
Working with Donna Summer on an album called ‘I Remember Yesterday’, producer Giorgio Moroder wanted to feature a track that represented “the sound of the future”. Employing the Moog Modular system with an 8-step analogue sequencer plus a triplet delay to create the pulsing synthesizer lines and metronomic beat, ‘I Feel Love’ changed the course of music. Summer’s hypnotic Middle Eastern falsetto was an accident, coming as a result of the track being laid down outside of her usual vocal range.
Using a Micromoog for its iconic hook, ‘The Model’ was inspired by KRAFTWERK’s visits to night clubs in the more vibrant city of Cologne 30km down the road from Düsseldorf where their iconic Kling Klang studio was based. There, they would observe beautiful models drinking champagne and seek their company. It was quite the antithesis of the robot image that the quartet were portraying. Sonically ahead of its time, it became a UK No1 four years after its initial release in 1982.
In a creative rut following their massive UK success in the glam-era, the Mael Brothers had found ‘I Feel Love’ awe inspiring. A journalist friend put SPARKS into contact with Giorgio Moroder who had aspirations to work with a band and set to work with them immediately. The first result was the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ where Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto fitted well with the electro-disco sound, while the programmed backing meant Ron Mael could maintain his image of doing nothing.
Still using the group name of TUBEWAY ARMY at the behest of Beggars Banquet, the astoundingly long ‘Are Friends Electric?’ with its diabolus in musica structure became the entry point for many into electronic music. It was Synth Britannia’s ‘Starman’ moment when it was featured on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Old Grey Whistle Test’ during the same week. When it reached No1 in the UK, life was never the same for Gary Numan, the pale-faced front man of what turned out to be a phantom band.
Available on the album ‘Replicas’ via Beggars Banquet
Departing ULTRAVOX after the ‘Systems Of Romance’ album and now making music along with an ARP Odyssey, Elka Rhapsody and a Roland CR78 Compurhythm, John Foxx realised his own starker vision of electronic music. Engineered by Gareth Jones who was to later notably work with DEPECHE MODE, ‘Underpass’ channelled the dystopian writings of JG Ballard in his lyrical imagery, with Foxx added that the English novelist was “addressing what I’d come to call ‘the unrecognised present’.”
Available on the album ‘Metamatic’ via Metamatic Records
A track that “weighed more than Saturn”, ‘The Black Hit Of Space’ sounded extraordinary when it opened the second album by THE HUMAN LEAGUE. The Sci-Fi lyrics about an infinite pop hit were strangely out there while harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving the mixing desk; “We were also experimenting with guitar pedals” Martyn Ware told The Electricity Club, “All that was a reaction to the cleanness of the previous album so we overcompensated.”
The resonant heart of ‘Quiet Life’ was a Roland System 700 driven by Richard Barbieri’s snappy eight step Oberheim Mini-sequencer. Complimented by Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass, Rob Dean’s clean guitar lines and David Sylvian’s lyrical conclusion that the band were outsiders in the environment they were born into, it was a sure-fire hit… but not yet as Ariola Hansa release it as a single in the UK until 1981. But meanwhile, JAPAN had invented DURAN DURAN!
Within the environment of colder electronic pioneers such as Gary Numan and John Foxx, OMD were perhaps the first of the warmer synthesizer bands. ‘Messages’ utilised a pulsing ‘Repeat’ function on a Korg Micro-Preset shaped by hand twisting the octave knob. Re-recorded from the original album version under the helm of producer Mike Howlett, he harnessed a template of basic primary chord structures and one fingered melodies, netting a No13 UK chart hit.
Of ‘Astradyne’, Billy Currie told The Electricity Club: “Midge started with that strong melody, Chris’ bass was also a very strong feature. I played a piano counter melody behind. The track was so strong that we felt at ease to lengthen it with a long textural piano bit that is sort of bell-like with the metronomic bass drum beats and the violin tremolo solo… Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is very celebratory at the end…”
Available on the album ‘Vienna’ via Chrysalis/EMI Records
Conceived during soundchecks under the working title of ‘Toot City’ while they were playing on Gary Numan’s first concert tour, Chris Payne, Billy Currie and Ced Sharpley had recorded the track at Genetic Studios as a souvenir keepsake. Midge Ure later came up lyrics and a melody when the track was added to the debut VISAGE album and the rest was history. Capturing the cinematic pomp of the New Romantic movement in all its glory, ‘Fade To Grey’ became a No1 hit in West Germany.
Available on the album ‘Visage’ via Polydor Records
Written by Vince Clarke and produced by Daniel Miller, DEPECHE MODE fulfilled the Mute label founder’s vision of a teenage pop group with synthesizers that he had imagined and conceived for SILICON TEENS. Despite its danceable bubblegum appeal and catchy synthesizer hooks, ‘New Life’ also featured some intricate folk vocal harmonies which made it quite distinct from the chanty nature of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ which was also out at the same time.
The expansive instrumental ‘Theme for Great Cities’ was initially been given away as a freebie having initially been part of ‘Sister Feelings Call’, a seven track EP given gratis to early purchasers of SIMPLE MINDS’ breakthrough fourth album ‘Sons & Fascination’. Starting with some haunting vox humana before a combination of CAN and TANGERINE DREAM takes hold, the rhythm section covered in dub echo drove what is possibly one of the greatest synth signatures ever!
SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ became ubiquitous as Synth Britannia’s first true crossover record, reaching No1 in UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also breaking the US Top 10 a year later. Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was recorded by Gloria Jones and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory, while Marc Almond added an honestly spirited vocal.
With its iconic honky tonk piano line and sophisticated arrangement, ‘Party Fears Two’ was a magnificent song about dealing with the perils of schizophrenia, made all the more resonant by Billy Mackenzie’s operatic prowess. It also kick started a brief period when ASSOCIATES subverted the UK charts with an avant pop approach that fitted in with the Synth Britannia template of the times. A Top10 hit and emotive to the nth degree, the original single version is still the best and total perfection.
Harrow College of Art students Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe were unlikely pop stars, but an appearance on the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ led to a deal with London Records as well as support slots with DEPECHE MODE and JAPAN. Using a Korg MS20 synched to a Linn Drum Computer as its rhythmic backbone, the haunting melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen The Word’ fused the sombre lyricism of JOY DIVISION with the melodies and textures of OMD via a Roland Jupiter 8.
Merseyside duo CHINA CRISIS are probably the most under rated band of their generation. The haunting ‘Christian’ was a song about the fate of soldiers in the trenches during World War One. Slow and melancholic, ‘Christian’ was as unlikely a hit single as ‘Ghosts’ by JAPAN was, but in a far more open-minded and diverse period in pop music than today, acts with a less obvious rock ‘n’ roll outlook were generally in with a chance; it reached No12 in the UK singles charts.
‘Temptation’ was NEW ORDER’s self-produced electronic breakthrough away from the haunting legacy of JOY DIVISION. The recording itself was marvellously flawed, with Stephen Morris’ overdriven Simmons snare panned too far to the right while band members could also be heard calling instructions and tutting. The pulsing hypnotism of the triggered ARP Quadra and the iconic “oooh-oo-ooh” vocal refrain made ‘Temptation’ rather joyous and magical.
When Jimmy Somerville, Steve Bronski and the late Larry Steinbachek made their first ever TV appearance performing on BBC2’s ‘ORS’, BRONSKI BEAT were nothing short of startling, thanks to their look, their minimal synth sound and Somerville’s lonely earth shattering falsetto. The trio had sought to be more outspoken and political in their position as openly gay performers and the tale of ‘Smalltown Boy’ about a gay teenager leaving his family and fleeing his hometown made an important statement.
It was with the re-recorded Stephen Hague version of ‘West End Girls’ that PET SHOP BOYS hit No1 in both the UK and US in 1986. Interestingly, the character of its distinctive bass synth was achieved by Hague coercing a reluctant Chris Lowe into hand playing the riff. Meanwhile, the track fulfilled Neil Tennant’s concept of the duo sounding “like an English rap group” with a dour demeanour that was the antithesis of WHAM! It started an imperial phase for PET SHOP BOYS which included three more No1s.
In today’s world, DEPECHE MODE influenced acts are common place but in 1988, this was highly unusual. Taking ‘Some Great Reward’ as their template, CAMOUFLAGE developed on the industrial flavoured synthpop of ‘Master & Servant’ and ‘People Are People’ which the Basildon boys had all but abandoned from ‘Black Celebration’ onwards. Probably the best single DM never recorded. while ‘The Great Commandment’ was a hit in Europe and the US, it made no impression in Britain.
Available on the CAMOUFLAGE album ‘The Singles’ via Polydor Records / Universal Music
Produced by Stephen Hague, ‘A Little Respect’ was perfection from the off with its lively combination of Vince Clarke’s pulsing programming and strummed acoustic guitar. As the busy rhythmical engine kicked in, Andy Bell went from a tenor to a piercing falsetto to provide the dynamic highs and lows that are always omnipresent in all the great pop songs like ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Careless Whisper’. Something of a crossover record for ERASURE, ‘A Little Respect’ was covered by WHEATUS in 2000.
DUBSTAR straddled Britpop with a twist of Synth Britannia. ‘Not So Manic Now’ was a song by Wakefield indie band BRICK SUPPLY, but the trio made it their own with the Northern lass earthiness of Sarah Blackwood providing the chilling commentary of an attack on a helpless pensioner. Stephen Hague’s wonderful production fused programmed electronics with guitars and cello in fine fashion, while the incessant programmed rhythms drove the song along without being obtrusive to the horrifying story.
It is interesting to think that GOLDFRAPP were initially labelled as a trip-hop act. Their superb stratospheric debut ‘Felt Mountain’ had Ennio Morricone’s widescreen inflections but to accompany an ascent to the Matterhorn rather than a trek through a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. The opening song ‘Lovely Head’ was laced with deviant sexual tension. Will Gregory’s mad Korg MS20 treatments on Alison Goldfrapp’s operatic screaming produced some thrilling musical moments.
Describing the relationship between artist and fan, this was another throbbing Moroder-inspired cacophony of electronic dance from Michel Amato with a dirty clanking Korg KR55 Rhythm used to great effect. Deliciously hypnotic, the swimmy ARP synths drowned any sorrows as the pulsing euphoria took a hold. Miss Kittin didn’t sing as much as deadpan her thoughts, but her sexy Grenoble charm carried off what was a rather superb Electroclash anthem.
LADYTRON became one of the first bands for many years to primarily use synthesizers as their tools of expression and attain critical acclaim. Their debut ‘604’showed electro potential in their initial quest to find ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’. With octave shifts galore to satirical lyrics about the X-Factor/Next Year’s Top Model generation, ‘Seventeen’ demonstrated the tactile nature of analogue synthesis that was key to a revival in fortunes for electronic pop in the 21st Century.
Probably the most influential electronic act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Those long winter nights certainly had their effect on siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer. ‘Silent Shout’ was hypnotic understated rave with the a quota of creepy Nordic eccentricity. The sharp appregiator and ambient percussion melted with Karin Dreijer’s heavily pitch-shifted low register vocals providing a menacing counterpoint to her younger brother’s vibrant electronic lattice.
Is a cover or is it Memorex? This interpolation of ‘Space Age Love Song’ by A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS provided MARSHEAUX with their most immediate number yet. Borrowing the uniformed look of CLIENT but applying a pure synthpop template, Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou became notable for their marketing masterstrokes. The parent ‘Peek-A-Boo’ CD included a paper bag ghost mask. Fans wore it, took pictures and sent them to the duo… around 3,500 pictures were gathered!
Following the ‘Technique’ album released in early 1989, NEW ORDER were in something of a state of flux.
Bernard Sumner had already opted for what was planned as a solo album but became ELECTRONIC after meeting up with Johnny Marr, then a free agent having left THE SMITHS. Peter Hook responded with the fittingly named REVENGE. Even the band’s manager Rob Gretton had his own adventure with Rob’s Records.
But what of Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, THE OTHER TWO?
Having soundtracked the BBC’s comedy drama ‘Making Out’ and youth culture show ‘Reportage’, the NEW ORDER couple had been composing and stockpiling various sketches and instrumentals pieced together at their home studio near Macclesfield in the event of future commissions, as happened later with ‘America’s Most Wanted’.
However, following the Italia 90 World Cup song ‘World In Motion’ which was supposed to start the process towards making the follow-up to ‘Technique’, Gilbert and Morris found themselves with time to kill having turned down a film soundtrack to accommodate the now false start. ‘World In Motion’ had actually mutated from the ‘Reportage’ theme which Gilbert had mostly written, so Factory Records’ Alan Erasmus suggested that some of this stockpiled material could be released as an album.
In a 2011 interview, Stephen Morris told The Electricity Club: “They start off as these things for TV, you get really attached to them and you twist one or two of them into being songs. Some of them never turn into songs but you get persuaded by the record company or someone that you have to get a singer! So we tried to get a singer and then Gillian ended up doing it which is great, she’s really good at it.” – that singer they tried to get was actually Kim Wilde! But when that idea never got beyond a meeting, Gilbert took on the role of lead vocalist, helped along the way with some singing lessons.
The brilliant debut single ‘Tasty Fish’ released in late 1991 was superbly catchy and had the Kylie Factor. But with the ongoing problems at Factory Records, the single never made it to many shops and stalled at No41 in the singles chart.
The subsequent album which had actually already given a catalogue number of Fact 330 never got released on Factory as planned, while the couple’s attentions were turned to NEW ORDER for what was to become ‘Republic’, produced by Stephen Hague. In the fallout that came with talk of London Records buying Factory out, the iconic Manchester record label collapsed and NEW ORDER signed with London direct.
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ finally appeared in late 1993 on London Records seven months after ‘Republic’ and had been tweaked from its original Factory configuration by Stephen Hague.
Opening with a new version of ‘Tasty Fish’, although Hague’s additional production neutered the dynamics of the original Pascal Gabriel single mix, the song still stood out, a well-deserved hit if ever there was one, but not to be.
Following it was the dancey DUBSTAR of ‘The Greatest Thing’, a joyous music statement about the power love. Its sampled acoustic guitar lines could easily have been represented by Peter Hook’s bass and highlighted the couple’s contribution to NEW ORDER, despite some reports to the contrary.
‘Selfish’ made it three in a row for the start of THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’, a Hague production rich in synthetic strings and lively but unobtrusive machine driven rhythms. Gilbert’s resigned vocal about “someone I hate” reinforced to the inherent melancholy in a fabulous song with an exquisite understated quality.
On the moodier electro-acoustic strum of ‘Movin’ On’, it wasn’t difficult to imagine Sarah Blackwood and the usual cup of tea, with Gillian Gilbert’s singing lessons proving effective and highlighting her as actually the best technical vocalist in NEW ORDER.
With soundtracks having been their main compositional forte during this period, there were naturally instrumentals; the uptempo pulse of ‘Ninth Configuration’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place as a NEW ORDER B-side circa ‘Technique’, ditto ‘Spirit Level’, although the eerie interlude ‘Night Voice’ pointed more towards filmic ambience.
Meanwhile the widescreen synthpop of ‘Feel This Love’ foresaw a future Stephen Hague produced act called TECHNIQUE; a female electronic pop duo comprising of Xan Tyler and Katie Holmes, they were to name themselves after the NEW ORDER album and later morphed into CLIENT featuring Sarah Blackwood! The charming ‘Innocence’ with its lovely OMD-styled string melody embraced a subtle Italo house staccato, but closing the album was the brilliant ‘Loved It (The Other Track)’.
With its hypnotic digital slap bass and club friendly vibes, it had been composed to celebrate the opening of The New Factory, a building in Charles Street which became a white elephant and ultimately contributed to Factory Records’ collapse.
Featuring cut-up speech from the likes of the late label co-founder Tony Wilson shouting “Any one of you miserable musicians want any more pills?” as well members of NEW ORDER deadpanning “Not my idea!” and “Are you sure?”, time has made the track an amusingly ironic musical document of that carefree Factory period.
Better than REVENGE but not consistently soaring to the heights of the ELECTRONIC debut, THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ did however showed how Gilbert and Morris had often been overlooked in the NEW ORDER story.
Over the following years, work continued on THE OTHER TWO’s second album ’Super Highways’. It eventually surfaced in 1999 and was perhaps less immediate than its predecessor. The realisation of their original guest female vocalist idea came to fruition with Melanie Williams from Rob Records signings SUB SUB on the excellent ‘You Can Fly’ and the very DUBSTAR sounding title track.
Gilbert sang on the lovely orchestrated electropop of ‘The River’ while there were also various experiments in drum ‘n’ bass like the mighty ‘One Last Kiss’. However, the record had been overshadowed by the reunion of NEW ORDER with their triumphant comeback gigs at Manchester Apollo and the Reading Festival in 1998.
Family matters led to Gillian Gilbert departing NEW ORDER before the guitar heavy ‘Get Ready’ was released in 2001. The void left the band in a much tenser masculine environment and the sad untimely death of Rob Gretton in 1999 left the now well-documented conflicts between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook without a referee. Fast forward to today, Gillian Gilbert is back in NEW ORDER and the electronics have returned in style on 2015’s ‘Music Complete’ released on Mute Records. “I’m on all the best records” she amusingly quipped to Q magazine on her return.
But if NEW ORDER hadn’t made a return in 1998 and THE OTHER TWO had been able to be a full-time occupation, could they have been as successful as DUBSTAR or SAINT ETIENNE?
“No, we’re completely the wrong kind of people!”,Stephen Morris said adamantly. “I’ve tried but it never works… we’d never be popstars!”
THE OTHER TWO ‘& You’ + ‘Super Highways’ are reissued by Factory Benelux in double coloured vinyl LP and CD formats on 3rd April 2020 with ‘The Other Disc’ bonus CD featuring rare tracks and remixes by FACTORY FLOOR available as an exclusive optional extra via FBN mailorder copies of either album, pre-order direct from https://www.factorybenelux.com/the_other_two.html
In INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP’s world of academia, eccentric Northern electronic pop would be compulsory on the curriculum.
With a vibrant and impressive self-titled debut album featuring great songs such as ‘On Repeat’, ‘After Dark’, ‘The Ballad Of Remedy Nilsson’ and ‘Age Of The Train’, already under their belt and a darker second album promised featuring a collaboration with Jason Williamson of SLEAFORD MODS, the intelligent musical escapism of INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP has struck a chord with audiences.
In an amusing interview with The Electricity Club earlier in the year, the band’s Adrian Flanagan said: “I guess we live in pretty miserable times, the news is miserable, the political climate is completely off its tits – and ‘mankind’ itself is being treated – on the whole – like a piece of sh*t!! We are all desperate to have a good time, to have a laugh, escape velocity and dance to some fun music – ITOP are that kind of night out… embrace it before you’re hit by a driverless bus!!”
The latest single released from the album is the bubbly ‘Love Girl’, a luscious cross between DUBSTAR and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Directed and filmed by Adam Sinclair, the accompanying video sees frontwomen Leonore Wheatley and Katie Mason out on the town in the Trafford area of Manchester, on their skateboards and busting moves in a state of cosmicity. “Smile at the neon and the mirrorball” as Flanagan stated in one of the INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP manifesto declarations.
With Flanagan playing a dodgy dealer geezer and fourth member Dean Honer in a blink or you’ll miss it moment, the video concludes with a charming acapella rendition of ‘Love Girl’ performed by She Choir.
INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP really are what the school nurse ordered for these unsettled times, with luscious vintage synth sounds, witty observant lyrics and catchy danceable tunes, perfect for the summer holidays.