‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ by EMIKA is a wonderful bittersweet musical rhapsody laced with Bohemian melancholy.
Deep and thoughtful, it captures an array of enticing melodic textures with an inherent gloominess that paradoxically is EMIKA’s most synthpop statement, yet is a glorious sonic exploration into sadness and the human psyche.
With plans to take the record out of the road, Ema Jolly, the Berlin based Anglo-Czech musician and producer behind EMIKA gave a taster of what may be to come with a special concert at the Apple Store in London’s Regent Street.
With a Kawai K-6 upright piano, Arturia Keylab 49 hybrid synth, MacBook, Eventide effects hardware and an Earthworks microphone for company, it was her first public performance as EMIKA using live instrumentation having previously stuck to a DJ format in previous personal appearances over the years.
With an icy extended ambient intro, proceedings began formally with a largely piano-led ‘Wash It All Away’, a fitting atmospheric opener expressing EMIKA’s own catharsis.
But with the push of a button, things went uptempo as ‘Could This Be’ hypnotically pulsed with its chilling spy drama inflections, offset by a tense percussive rattle.
Some beautiful piano provided a crucial organic element over the rigid machine driven backing, presenting EMIKA’s art in a context which differed from the recorded version. There was enough vital familiarity but there was also variation from the actual playing and the tonal presence of the piano to provide a mesmerising contrast.
Laced with chromatic melancholy and a deeply European electronic backdrop, ‘Run’ closed the first section of the performance with EMIKA showcasing more of her classical ability, something she had already proven having released a symphony ‘Melanfonie’ with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017; it is also now her unique selling point within a live setting.
A short interview interlude saw Ema Jolly answer a number of questions from the Apple Store’s host and audience about the importance of location as an inspiration for art regardless of whether it was direct and how the concept of ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ was about learning to embrace sadness as a natural human emotion for her own well-being as a reaction to her own family’s generations of sadness.
Continuing with the music, there came the metronomic body stomp of ‘Eternity’. Although the backing maintained a frantic rigidity that was as good as clockwork, the forlorn manner of Miss Jolly’s delivery and her accompanying piano chords captured a beautiful hue which was unusual but highly satisfying aurally.
‘Killers’ provided a more simmering avant set piece as EMIKA enigmatically whispered while understandably neutering the recorded version’s profanities for the shopping families present.
To close, the wonderful ‘Promises’ featured a deliciously extended ivory improvisation in a solemn spine tingling combination of cascading harmonics and rumbling dubby tension.
Short and subtle yet expressing power and vulnerability with hushed but haunting vocals, EMIKA’s set left everyone wanting more. Almost stoic in her demeanour and retaining a vital air of mystery, Ema Jolly captivated all those present with her juxtaposition of precise electronics and classically inspired keyboard runs.
At no point were EMIKA’s machine-driven beats too overbearing as can often be the case in techno or dance music, yet the ecstatic bass programming stunned the consciousness, drawing in both the converted and the curious, the latter evidenced by the numbers gathering on the grand staircase of the Apple Store to watch.
Since releasing her third album ‘Drei’ on her own label in 2015, EMIKA has been a fine example to those who aspire to be a truly modern independent artist.
With her best record yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and her growing confidence as a live performer, she is on a well-deserved upward trajectory.
2018 saw JEAN-MICHEL JARRE celebrate 50 years in the business and whether the world really needed another of his compilations, ‘Planet Jarre’ was probably one of the better collected representations of his work for casual admirers.
But not standing still and releasing his fourth new album in three years, ‘Equinoxe Infinity’ continued the story as the French Maestro tuned 70.
SOFT CELL made a totally unexpected return for a huge one-off farewell gig at London’s O2 Arena; and with it came a boxed set, the ‘Northern Lights’ single and other new recordings which have raised hopes for a new album.
From the same era, FIAT LUX announced plans for their debut album ‘Save Symmetry’ with an excellent lead track ‘It’s You’, while B-MOVIE came up with their most synth-propelled single yet in ‘Stalingrad’.
But one act who actually did comeback with a brand new album in 2018 were DUBSTAR; now a duo of Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie, as ‘One’ they reminded audiences as to why they were the acceptable face of Britpop with their bridge to Synth Britannia.
IONNALEE finally released her debut opus ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ and her tour which included choice cuts from IAMAMIWHOAMI, proved to be one of the best value-for-money live experiences in 2018, one that was even endorsed by Welsh songstress Charlotte Church.
CHVRCHES offered up their third album ‘Love Is Dead’ and continued their role as international flagwavers for quality synthpop, while EMIKA presented her best album yet in ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, an exquisite electronic record with a Bohemian aura.
JOHN GRANT was on an artistic roll both solo and in partnership with WRANGLER as CREEP SHOW with two new albums. However, he was beaten by Neil Arthur who managed three albums over a 12 month period as NEAR FUTURE and BLANCMANGE including ‘Wanderlust’, possibly the latter’s best body of work in its 21st Century incarnation.
It was a busy year for STEVE JANSEN with a new solo ambient work ‘Corridor’, the well-received vinyl reissue of JAPAN’s two Virgin-era studio albums and his epic, more organically flavoured band project EXIT NORTH with their debut long player ‘Book Of Romance & Dust’.
SARAH NIXEY went on some ‘Night Walks’ for her best solo album yet, a wonderful collection of everything she had ever been musically all wonderfully rolled into one.
Meanwhile TRACEY THORN went back to the ‘Dancefloor’ with her ‘Record’ which content wise was right up there with some of ALISON MOYET’s electronica output from the last five years.
Hungary’s BLACK NAIL CABARET offered some noirish ‘Pseudopop’ and promising Norwich youngsters LET’S EAT GRANDMA got more deeply into electronica without losing any of their angsty teenage exuberance on their second album ‘I’m All Ears’.
Less intense and more dreamy were GLASSHOUSE, the new duo fronted by former TECHNIQUE singer Xan Tyler.
While the new HEAVEN 17 album ‘Not For Public Broadcast’ is still to be finished, Glenn Gregory teamed by with live keyboardist Berenice Scott as AFTERHERE. Their long-time friend Claudia Brücken performed as xPROPAGANDA with Susanne Freytag and partnered up with one-time TANGERINE DREAM member Jerome Froese, releasing the ‘Beginn’ album in the process.
Highly appealing were a number of quirky Japanese influenced female artists from around the globe including COMPUTER MAGIC, MECHA MAIKO and PLASMIC. But there were also a number of acts with Far Eastern heritage like STOLEN, FIFI RONG, DISQO VOLANTE and SHOOK who continued to make a worthy impression with their recorded output in 2018.
Heavy synth rock duo NIGHT CLUB presented their ‘Scary World’ on the back of tours opening for COMBICHRIST and A PERFECT CIRCLE while also from across the pond, NYXX and SINOSA both showcased their alluring potential.
At the poppier end of the spectrum, Holger Wobker used Pledge Music to relaunch BOYTRONIC with their most recent vocal incumbent James Knights in an unexpected twist to once again prove the old adage to “never say never” as far as the music industry is concerned.
Meanwhile, Chris Payne co-wrote and co-produced the excellent ‘Walking In West Berlin’ EP with KATJA VON KASSEL while also revealing plans for an autobiography and opening for his old boss…
The surprise album of the year was CHRIS CARTER with his ‘Chemistry Lessons Volume One’ while using a not dissimilar concept with their second album ‘Hello Science’, REED & CAROLINE took their folk laden synthpop out on a US tour opening for ERASURE.
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY harked back to the days when GARY NUMAN and OMD would release two albums in one year by offering ‘Hans Und Lieselotte’ and ‘The Electric Eye’ in 2016. Those veteran acts themselves celebrated their 40th anniversaries by going orchestral, something which SIMPLE MINDS also did when they opted to re-record ‘Alive & Kicking’ for the ’80s Symphonic’ collection although Jim Kerr forgot how a third of the song went!
With SIMPLE MINDS also performing a horrible and barely recognisable ‘Promised You A Miracle’ during BBC’s ‘The Biggest Weekend’, making up for the live joke that his former band have become was one-time bassist Derek Forbes with the album ‘Broken Hearted City’ as ZANTi with Anni Hogan of MARC & THE MAMBAS fame. Other former members of high-profile bands were busy too with Ian Burden, formally of THE HUMAN LEAGUE returning with the Floydian ‘Hey Hey Ho Hum’ while A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS reformed briefly for an orchestral re-run of their catalogue.
With the release of their second album ‘Kinetik’, EKKOES handed over THE HUMAN LEAGUE support baton to SHELTER who came up with their best body of work yet in the more introspective shades of ‘Soar’
That darker approach manifested itself on singer Mark Bebb’s side project FORM with Keith Trigwell of SPEAK & SPELL whose debut long player ‘defiance + entropy’ also came out in 2018.
There was a good showing from UK acts in 2018 with RODNEY CROMWELL, ANI GLASS, THE FRIXION, NEW ARCADES, OLLIE WRIDE and FAKE TEAK all issuing some excellent synth tinged songs for public consumption. However, the side was let down by the conveyor belt of lame profanity laden offerings from a number of British acts afflicted with deluded normality.
NINA’s long awaited debut album ‘Sleepwalking’ was a fine hybrid of synthpop and the currently fashionable Synthwave aesthetic; her live double billing with Canadian synthpopsters PARALLELS was one of the hottest tickets of the year. The sub-genre was indeed making waves and there were some very enjoyable artists coming out of it like GUNSHIP, DANA JEAN PHOENIX and MICHAEL OAKLEY.
However, the endless AOR excesses, moonlight sax breaks and highly unimaginative band monikers using numbers between 80 to 89 affixed to an archaic technology reference, illustrated by yet another neon sunset, VCR grid and Lamborghini, were becoming tiresome.
As Synthwave cynics, The Electricity Club’s touch paper was being lit big time! The whole point of the synthesizer’s role during the Second British Invasion of the US was to fight against the insipid overtures of AOR like TOTO, CHICAGO and JOURNEY, NOT to make music coated with its horrid stench as THE MIDNIGHT did in 2018 with their long player ‘Kids’.
But there was naivety within some quarters too; electronic music did not begin in 2011 with ‘Drive’, an above average film with a good if slightly over rated soundtrack. However, its cultural influence has led to a plethora of meandering tracks made by gamer boys which sounded like someone had forgotten to sing on them; perhaps they should have gone back to 1978 and listened to GIORGIO MORODER’s ‘Midnight Express Theme’ to find out how this type of instrumental music should be done?
Many of the newer artists influenced by Synth Britannia that The Electricity Club has featured have sometimes been accused of being stuck in the past, but a fair number of Synthwave acts were really taking the soggy biscuit with their retro-obsession.
Rock band MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown. There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD, while electropop diva LA ROUX used a visual stylisation for ‘In For The Kill’ that has since been claimed by Synthwavers as their own, despite it being from 2009 when Ryan Gosling was peddling graveyard indie rock in DEAD MAN’S BONES 😉
This was one of the bigger ironies of 2018, especially as MUSE have always used synths! One of Matt Bellamy and co’s biggest musical inspirations is ULTRAVOX, indicating the trio probably have a better understanding of the fusion between the synthesizer, rock and classical music, as proven by the ‘Simulation Theory’ bookends ‘Algorithm’ and ‘The Void’, than any static laptop exponent with a Jan Hammer fixation.
It is interesting to note today how electronic music has split into so many factions, but there’s still the assumed generalisation that it is all one thing and that synthpop fans must also like Synthwave, Deep House, EDM, Industrial and those tedious beach chill-out remixes.
Back in the day and even now, some fans of THE HUMAN LEAGUE didn’t like OMD, DEPECHE MODE fans only liked DEPECHE MODE and rock fans had a token favourite electronic band. Out of all the synth based pop acts of the Synth Britannia era, The Electricity Club had very little time for THOMPSON TWINS despite their huge international success, but their leader Tom Bailey’s 2018 solo recorded return ‘Science Fiction’ was warmly received by many.
Just as COLDPLAY and SNOW PATROL fans don’t all embrace ELBOW, it is ok to have preferences and to say so. Not liking the music of an artist does not make you a bad person, but liking everything does not make you a better person either… in fact, it shows you probably have no discerning taste! In 2002, SOFT CELL warned of a ‘Monoculture’, and if there is no taste differentiation in art and music, it will spell the end of cultural enhancement.
2018 was a year of good songs rather than good albums, with many of long players not as consistent or as of high a standard as the bumper crop from the Class of ’17.
However, The Electricity Club had plenty of material to choose from for its 30 SONGS OF 2018 and while it can’t include everything, worthy mentions go to ANI GLASS, BLACK NAIL CABARET, BRÜCKEN FROESE, DANA JEAN PHOENIX, DISQO VOLANTE, DUBSTAR, EKKOES, FAKE TEAK, FRAGRANCE, THE FRIXION, GUNSHIP, HILTIPOP, IAMX, LIZETTE LIZETTE, TRAIN TO SPAIN and WITCH OF THE VALE who were in this year’s shortlist.
Interestingly, three graduates from the ‘Some Bizarre Album’ made it into the final list, thus highlighting the longevity of that particular vinyl showcase some 37 years on!
So with a restriction of one song per artist moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2018 presented in alphabetical order…
AFTERHERE Breaking Rules
AFTERHERE is the brand new project of HEAVEN 17 singer Glenn Gregory and live keyboardist Berenice Scott, but with their roles reversed. Exploring their inner GOLDFRAPP but in a funkier vein, with groovy reminisces of ‘Twist’ and ‘Yes Sir’, the song seductively boasted a captivating sexually charged electronic energy. Berenice Scott said to The Electricity Club: “We always wanted to have a driving track on the album that you could hopefully move your feet to, party to… possibly get in a little trouble!”
Available on the AFTERHERE album ‘Addict’ via Manners McDade
While the Clarke was strong with this one, the first impression that came across with ‘Utopia’ was that things became a slight bit darker in the world of JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM. Despite that, there was a rousing chorus and percolating sequences to savour as he pointed out the futility of seeking that perfect future, when life has so much more on offer. “I wouldn´t describe the album as dark though” the DAILY PLANET synthesist helpfully told The Electricity Club, “it´s absolutely a pop album.”
Available on the JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM album ‘Utopia’ via Progress Productions
For BLANCMANGE, ‘Distant Storm’ was rather unusual with its dance beat, reverberant Moog bassline and dreamy processed vocoder aesthetic. With a rousing, almost spiritual quality and elements of JAMES’ ‘Come Home’ creeping in for good measure, it displayed Neil Arthur’s comfort in working with producer Benge on effectively their third album together. “I wanted to sing it as though it was really detached with my voice being synthesized” he told The Electricity Club.
Available on the BLANCMANGE album ‘Wanderlust’ via Blanc Check Records
Veteran Mansfield quartet B-MOVIE made their most electronic pop single to date with the chilling aesthetics of ‘Stalingrad’. Complete with an infectious synth melody, an eerie mezzo-soprano and using the crucial Second World War battle as a metaphor for a doomed relationship, it was possibly Steve Hovington, Paul Statham, Rick Holliday and Graham Boffey’s best song since their 21st Century reformation; appropriately, its B-side was called ‘Something Cold’…
Available on the B-MOVIE EP ‘Repetition’ via Loki Records
‘Get Out’ may have acted as a superb launch single, but starting off their ‘Love Is Dead’ album was the wonderful ‘Graffiti’. This was a classic kaleidoscopic CHVRCHES tune that punched the sky with some rousing vocals. It was also a supreme singalong showcasing Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Docherty in full bouncy Taylor mode. Despite the downcast lyrical demeanour on lost youth and the passing of time, this was still a grand pop statement.
Australian duo CONFIDENCE MAN were a ray of sunshine in 2018 with their own brand of campy dork pop, being everything SCISSOR SISTERS should have been. ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ was an amusing satire on ego and sense of entitlement in the music industry. With an electro take on the groovy swoop of WAR’s ‘Low Rider’, a pitch shifted Sugar Bones came over like an inebriate Teddy Pendergrass while Janet Planet delightfully counterpointed in her alluring girly manner.
CREEP SHOW is the meeting of minds between eclectic singer / songwriter John Grant and the dark analogue electro of WRANGLER whose members comprise Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter. On ‘Safe & Sound’, the quartet explored a spacious KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER hybrid to reveal gradually some wonderfully warm melodic synth textures to accompany Grant’s passionate lead croon. The project led to Benge also working on Grant’s ‘Love Is Magic’ album also released in 2018.
Driven by a meaty electronic bassline and metronomic backbone, the marvellous vocoder-laden ‘Comrades’ by RODNEY CROMWELL captured a really chilling Cold War atmosphere, bathed in an ensemble of sweeping synth oboes and cosmic string machines. “I ended up thumping at the MicroKorg and came up with the opening riff” he said. Rich with melody and a panoramic resonance, it surreally captured the sound of Moroder being played through a Soviet Foxtrot submarine intercom system.
With ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, EMIKA produced one of the best electronic albums of 2018. The record was a concept album of sorts, a musical reflection on generations of sadness within the Anglo-Czech musician’s family in her most personal statement yet. The pacey ‘Promises’ made the most of her lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards with solemn spine tingling qualities.
Taking in more synthetic ambitions, FARAO’s second album ‘Pure-O’ was a playful bleep forward. While ‘The Ghost Ship’ saw Kari Jahnsen focussed on her forlorn little girl lost lyrics, the wonderfully uptempo ‘Marry Me’ offered an accessible PET SHOP BOYS flavour and romantic layers of vocals masking a deep scepticism of the institution of marriage, while the lush backing and chugging electronic backbone carried the air of her compatriot SUSANNE SUNDFØR.
Available on the FARAO album ‘Pure-O’ via Western Vinyl
Releasing their first new material in over three decades, FIAT LUX returned with the most splendid ‘It’s You’. As well as the bassline and harmony from David P Crickmore, the sax style was a fitting tribute to the sadly departed Ian Nelson. Singer Steve Wright said: “Lyrically, I hope, it expresses feelings that possibly everyone can relate to…” – their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ is expected in 2019.
Available on the FIAT LUX single ‘It’s You’ via Splid Records
The ‘Everyone Afraid To Be Forgotten’ album was easily equal to Jonna Lee’s work with IAMAMIWHOAMI. Best of the set was possibly the marvellous closing number ‘Fold’. Featuring exotic cascading timbres and spacey pulsars, distorted string synths added tan appropriate chill as Lee’s passionate vocals completed the filmic vibe. Less mysterious, the IONNALEE transition was a triumph, especially with one of the best value-for-money live presentations of 2018.
Asking if “it is foolish to dream”, ‘Someday’ saw KATJA VON KASSEL questioning a moment of passionate haste. “The phrase ‘Someday’ just opened it all up and everything else just fell into place.” the chanteuse said. Capturing the beautiful melancholy of ASSOCIATES’ Billy Mackenzie, the doomed romantic tragedy of the sadly departed Scot was echoed by the chanteuse’s deep forlorn delivery, accompanied by CHRIS PAYNE’s hypnotic bassline and haunting vox humana treatment over a simple rhythmic loop.
Despite their age, LET’S EAT GRANDMA have a feisty but mature musical ambition, as successfully realised on ‘Donnie Darko’, an 11 minute tribute to the troubled teenager haunted by a monstrous rabbit-like figure. Utilising a sedate start before morphing into a wonderful movement of cascading electronics set to a metronomic beat, there were passionate reflections on the subject of human suffering. It all went a bit “batsh*t crazy” into a glorious synthony before calming to its conclusion!
Available on the LET’S EAT GRANDMA album ‘I’m All Ears’ via Transgressive Records
CHRIS LIEBING featuring POLLY SCATTERGOOD And All Went Dark
Noted techno exponent CHRIS LIEBING teamed up with Mute label mate POLLY SCATTERGOOD on a stark polyrhythmic number appropriately titled ‘And All Went Dark’. The brooding minimalist electronic piece with its eerily poetic spoken contribution from Miss Scattergood saw the Essex songstress haunted by a “dark shadow on my shoulder” and telling how “a sickness took hold early on”.
Available on the CHRIS LIEBING album ‘Burn Slow’ via Mute Artists
With the name transcending Toronto based Hayley Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and a love of vintage synthesis, ‘Mad But Soft’ was her first album as MECHA MAIKO. The magically crystalline ‘False Memories’ could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack. Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered and airy, this day-glow pink neo-instrumental concoction was well-thought through and deliciously produced.
One-time RÖYSKSOPP collaborator Ryan A James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY. He said about the gorgeous electronic bubblebath of ‘Lafayette’: “It’s really a song about the end of a relationship, disguised as a song about Scientology, and how defectors of Scientology are disowned by their loved ones. The name comes from the religion’s founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard.”
Available on the MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY album ‘Infinity Mirror’ via Killing Moon Records
“Beware! It’s a scary world” and with their BRITNEY SPEARS fronting NINE INCH NAILS template, NIGHT CLUB took their sweet but sinister synth rock sound to its zenith with the title track of their second album. And when the children’s choir joined in the chorus to sing of demons everywhere, this was a musical trick or treat that no parent would want their offspring to be part of, the message being “they only love you if you swallow”!
A fabulously optimistic closer to NINA’s debut album, ‘80s Girl’ came beaming over like some missing song from the film ‘Mannequin’. With big Simmons drums, sampled orchestra stabs and driving synthbass triplets, it was however delivered with subtlety and restraint so that it wasn’t a HEART or STARSHIP pastiche. Dedicated to her mother, it had a telling message of “don’t let the past hold you back”.
Perhaps best known as the alluring if slightly blunt chanteuse of BLACK BOX RECORDER, SARAH NIXEY released her best solo album to date in ‘Night Walks’, a quality record with air and presence, collecting everything she has ever been musically, all rolled into one. One of its key tracks was the delightful ‘Journey’, a glorious number of the type that Marc Almond has often been so good at, laced with crystalline synths and gorgeously breathy vocal tones à la Jane Birkin.
Available on the SARAH NIXEY album ‘Night Walks’ via Black Lead Records
The ‘Savage’ album turned out to be both an artistic and commercial vindication for GARY NUMAN. ‘It Will End Here’ from ‘The Fallen’ EP was a natural progression from that, exploring a heavy but melodic electronic sound without relying on the predictable backing of rock guitars. With and anthemic chorus and the apocalypse is looming over the aural desert, there was even a soaring vocal pitch shift up at the song’s conclusion which added an extra eerie vampiric quality.
NYXX is very much her own woman, like the Greek goddess of night she is named after, a figure of power and beauty with a Britney-like vocal presence that sweetly offsets some of her darker overtones. A collaboration with Daniel Graves of AESTHETIC PERFECTION who contributed a glorious evangelical middle eight, she said “It would not be what it is without him. I came in with a sketch of a song, a melody and lyric of another song… Daniel heard nuances in it and we built what is now ‘Voodoo’.”
Available on the NYXX single ‘Voodoo’ via Close To Human Music
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions but the mission for the ‘Start’ EP was to party like it’s 1979 when GARY NUMAN was No1. ‘Nere För Räkning’ was an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard interventions heard on ‘The Pleasure Principle’.
Available on the PAGE EP ‘Start’ via Energy Rekords
From Mission Viejo in California, PLASMIC describes herself as an “Orange County one-woman dervish” and in a vivid haze that’s pretty in pink, “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”. Combining J-Pop with CRYSTAL CASTLES and DEVO, the undoubted standout from her ‘Validation Nation’ EP was ‘Baby Machine’, an immensely catchy feminist electropop anthem utilising a mixture of vintage Casio and Yamaha sounds that challenged the expectations of women to bear children.
Championed by none other than Vince Clarke, REED & CAROLINE successfully combine tunes with electronic experimentation. The haunting ‘Entropy’ was a tribute to a departed friend and a fabulously touching GARY NUMAN homage to his ‘Dance’ period, in particular ‘Cry The Clock Said’. The hypnotic soundtrack of gentle preset rhythms and eerie electric piano, courtesy of a Buchla modular synth, was complimented by Schutz even adopting the phrasing of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
Weird and wonderful, ‘Red Moon Voyage’ was a ghostly 10 minute epic comprising of glitchy voices and varying rhythm constructions recorded especially for Halloween. Free of album concepts and the pop song format, this was FIFI RONG at her most adventurous yet, delightfully adding her native Mandarin language towards the third part. She told The Electricity Club: “having a long journey means you can get very deep and lots of moods and transitions”.
Marc Almond and Dave Ball were the boys who came back-back-BACK as SOFT CELL in 2018. ‘Northern Lights’ reminisced about their days at the Wigan Casino and recaptured the pop essence that led to the duo having five consecutive Top 10 hits! Despite the grittiness and energetics, the duo always had melody and that came back in abundance on their welcome recorded return. The darker B-Side ‘Guilty (‘Cos I Say You Are)’ affirmed that as a creative force, SOFT CELL still had it.
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be possibly the most exciting band he has seen since NEW ORDER. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive and one of the best of 2018, with ‘Turn Black’ being one of the standout tracks. “I like the idea of mixing of rock with techno…” said growly lead vocalist Liang Yi, “we are very proud that we don’t sound like any of the other Chinese bands.”
Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz handed back the BOYTRONIC brand to Holger Wobker and returned to being U96, teaming up with former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür for the best track by either party in recent years. Stark and Teutonic with stark robotic vocoder aesthetics, the union of two German musical heavyweights from different generations was equal to Flür’s ‘Activity Of Sound’ collaboration with Ireland’s iEUROPEAN.
Combining piano, synths, field recordings, drones, occasional beats, old string instruments and HILARY WOODS’ wonderfully forlorn voice in the vein of Julee Cruise, ‘Jesus Said’ questioned the existence of God. Described by the Irish songstress herself as “a song that seeks catharsis”, her child-like expression over the drifting synthesized tones and hypnotic drum machine to augment her beautiful piano playing gave ‘Jesus Said’ a gentle meditative quality.
Available on the HILARY WOODS album ‘Colt’ via Sacred Bones
Since she founded her own Emika Records in 2014, EMIKA has been a fine example of a modern independent artist.
With a new album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ just released, Berlin-based Anglo-Czech musician and producer Ema Jolly is on an artistic high with what has been her most powerfully cathartic and personal musical statement yet. Following her well-received crowdfunded 2017 classical symphony ‘Melanfonie’ with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ is the full-length electronic follow-up to ‘Drei’ from 2015.
‘Close’ acted as an enticing trailer to ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’, laced in chromatic melancholy, while ‘Run’ took the template further with staccato voice manipulations over a deeply European electronic backdrop.
A wonderfully bittersweet Bohemian rhapsody, ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ is without doubt one of the best electronic pop albums of 2018, as the magnificent ‘Eternity’, the pacey dubby tension of ‘Promises’ and the brilliant avant pop of the title track all attest.
Ema Jolly kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about her creative ethos.
Having been resident in Bristol and Berlin as well as spending time in Prague to record your symphony ‘Melanfonie’ in Prague, how much of an effect would you say location on an artist and their creativity?
For me it’s everything. There is certain places in the world where I can concentrate, have a lot of ideas, feel the right energy needed to make stuff. We are all influenced from our surroundings. If you sit next to a tree, or sit inside a concrete flat, you will see life very differently.
You’ve said that ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ reconnects to your Czech heritage? Have you felt closer to it in more recent years?
Yes and no. It’s hard to say with a family spread around Europe. Brexit makes me feel like sh*t. I am occupied with England and Europe and the messy divorce which is going to change my life forever.
‘Close’ was a wonderful trailer for the album with an interesting vocal palette, was it personal or observational lyrically?
Mmmm, this one, came from somewhere deep in my soul, I can’t really answer anything specifically about it. I think I made it all with my eyes closed while swaying around dancing.
‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ has been described as featuring “lush synth pop hooks and electro”, what inspired you to head in this direction?
I worked with my best friend producer THE EXALTICS, and he contributed a lot of beats to the record. I was very focused on the synth parts and getting the right feeling through the arrangements and harmony. I wanted to make a record which you could put on in the background to your life and it would gently seep inside and be like… mmmm… so good. It’s not such an easy thing to do, because so many sounds take your attention and are like HELLO! I AM A SYNTH PRESET. And it takes a lot of work to make something which has unique character but doesn’t behave like a big fat sausage in the mix.
Despite the dubstep and techno influences in your music over the years, you’ve generally been song based which sets you apart?
Dubstep and techno, always sound to me like great beats for a proper song. When I’m in the club, I riff for hours in my head with new lyrics. But it never really sounds finished to me. So much empty space and half realised ideas. It just really sounds like a beat which is missing the rest… arrangement… instruments… variations…
Are the ivory and orchestral colours of ‘Klavírní’ and ‘Melanfonie’ out of your system for now?
I’m working on a new piano record and a modern classical album for soprano, piano and special effects. My sound has three parts, electronic, classical and singer songwriter. When I finished ‘Dva’, which had these three styles mixed together on one album, I decided to separate them and refine them. To focus in one direction per album. So that’s where ‘Melanfonie’, ‘Klavirni’, ‘Drei’ all came from. Me wanting to perfect each of my musical zones. And now it is about building on the foundations I have made now that people want to keep listening too.
‘Miracles’ was a key song on your last full electronic long player ‘Drei’, how do you look back on that album now and how you developed as a producer for ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’?
My music is about my life, what I see and feel, which I wish for, what I suffer from. So when I look back or forward on my music, I’m really just reflecting about my life. I think that my experience means I can make clearer decisions, I’m more certain of my processes now, and I definitely think more strategically about the music, genres, what people like, how I’m going to connect.
Having been a sound designer for Native Instruments, you have been at the forefront of modern music technology. Have you any views about the whole “analogue versus digital” debate?
Most gear is so far removed from what we think of as the true analogue set-up, it’s pretty much only used as a fancy selling feature for gear which is not really analogue. We can achieve so much more with digital sound – that’s why the entire music world moved in this direction. If you work with analogue gear for a year or two, you will soon want to change it for something which sounds less dirty and can save presets. It’s not all that great and very expensive too.
What synths were you using on ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’?
Arturia V Collection. So dope. Kawai piano for composing.
You have been known for some unique cover versions, most notably the quite unique asexual take on ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie with whom you share a birthday. How did that come together?
I was working with Hank Shocklee at the time and he encouraged me to try and make another cover (after my Chris Isaak – ‘Wicked Game’ cover I made) and I sent him my finished cover and he sent it back to me pitched down and it all sounded twisted up and strange… and we both loved it that way.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to EMIKA
Since releasing her third album ‘Drei’ on her own label in 2013, the Berlin-based Anglo-Czech musician EMIKA has been a fine example to those who aspire to be a truly modern independent artist.
Following her well-received crowdfunded 2017 classical symphony ‘Melanfonie’ with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, EMIKA returns to electronics with her best album to date entitled ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’.
Released on World Mental Health Day, the record is a concept album of sorts and a portion of proceeds will go to a UK-based mental health charity.
For the lady born Ema Jolly, it has been a journey of reflection on generations of family sadness as her most personal work to date. While this might be EMIKA’s most overtly synthpop adventure, ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ is deep and thoughtful, with enticing melodic textures that possess an inherent gloominess that makes for great art.
Co-produced with Robert Witschakowski of German dance experimentalists THE EXALTICS and also featuring guitarist Chris Lockington, it utilises more straightforward rhythms with less emphasis on the threes which characterised ‘Dva’ and ‘Drei’.
‘Wash It All Away’ with an atmospheric air and some subtle guitar embellishment, it provides an opener with an easing cathartic effect. But ‘Could This Be’ launches the album into a pulsing Eurocentric stomp, a little bit like a modern electro take on ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ with EMIKA’s hushed vocal tones offset by sudden bursts of live percussion and spy drama inflections.
With the excellent first single from the album ‘Close’ laced in chromatic melancholy over a sparse and chilling backbone, ‘Run’ takes that template further with layers staccato voice manipulations over a deeply European electronic backdrop.
The pacey ‘Promises’ makes the most of EMIKA’s lower and higher vocal registers, providing an eerie cascading harmonic with some rumbling dubby tension and booming stabs driving Eastwards. There’s a glorious urgency about it, a solemn synthphony with spine tingling qualities.
The ringing riff of ‘Killers’ signals a more simmering avant set piece with building arpeggios smothering almost unintelligible whispers and words for that enigmatic quality before Ms Jolly exclaims “now you wanna f*ck me up!” even though “I get back up!”
Punctuated by white noise and processed guitar, ‘Falling (Reprise)’ sets the scene for ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ featuring THE EXALTICS. A brilliant uptempo piece embroiled in haunting tension, this is avant pop at its best, hypnotically breathy and weirdly danceable, sweeping towards a solemn conclusion in a sea of voices.
Beginning in a bare bass laden manner, ‘Escape’ sees EMIKA saying she will “make this real” and picks up the rhythm, exploring New York electro but in an ultimately noirish manner.
But to close, EMIKA pulls a magnificent surprise with ‘Eternity’; while the bass sequence has a very electro body core, it is without the shouting and the Teutonic metal bashing. Although maintaining a frantic metronomic rigidity that is as good as clockwork, the forlorn manner of Miss Jolly’s delivery and the accompanying piano chords capture a beautiful hue which combine for an unusual but striking contrast.
A wonderfully bittersweet musical rhapsody laced with Bohemian melancholy, ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ is a glorious sonic exploration into how sadness moves through people. “My music is about my life, what I see and feel, which I wish for, what I suffer from.” she said to The Electricity Club, “So when I look back or forward on my music, I’m really just reflecting about my life.”
The best electronic pop album of 2018? ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ is without doubt one of the contenders and should belong on all turntables, digital devices, tape recorders and even CD players.