Tag: Emilie Simon

The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2020

Despite the worldwide pandemic crisis, the music industry did its best and soldiered on.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, but other artists used the lockdown situation as creative tension and were particularly productive while stuck at home, to compensate for being unable to perform live shows.

Electronic music has always had an emotional link in particular with isolation and solitary working, so the advances in computerised recording technology meant that a number of musicians could function as before.

Worthy mentions for 2020 include AaRON, ASSEMBLAGE 23, COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO, DESIRE, DISCOVERY ZONE, FIAT LUX, JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS, GEISTE, NEW ORDER, NEW SPELL, PAGE, WITCH OF THE VALE, ZIMBRU and 808 DOT POP, while one of the most popular synthpop songs of the year was ‘Blinding Lights’ by THE WEEKND which actually slipped out almost under the radar at the back end of 2019.

A special acknowledgement also goes to ‘Future Shock’ by Marc Collin featuring Clara Luciani which came from his independently produced film ‘Le Choc Du Futur’, but only became more widely known when the fictional story of an aspiring female synth musician set in 1978 was released internationally on DVD this year.

But at the end of the day, only 30 songs could be selected as a snapshot of the calendar year. So here are The Electricity Club’s songs of 2020, presented as usual alphabetically by act with a restriction of one song per artist moniker.


TOBIAS BERNSTRUP Private Eye

Tobias Bernstrup is an electronic musician and performance artist from Gothenburg who combines sci-fi, performance art and gothic noir for a striking persona that has been exhibited at art galleries in Sweden. The club-friendly Italo flavoured ‘Private Eye’ looked at the surveillance society with hints of TRANS-X who Bernstrup collaborated with on a new version of his song ‘Videodrome’ in 2018. Already a veteran of several albums, a follow-up to his last long player ‘Technophobic’ is in the works.

Available on the digital single ‘Private Eye’ via Tonight Records

http://www.bernstrup.com/


BLANCMANGE Diagram

The ninth full length BLANCMANGE long player of new material since their return in 2011 with ‘Blanc Burn’, Neil Arthur’s dark ‘Mindset’ is only reflecting what many are thinking in these strange times. Thus strange pop music is just the tonic and the highlight of this collection was the marvellous KRAFTWERK meets FAITHLESS concoction of the mutant electronic disco of ‘Diagram’. In his sharp Northern lilt, our hero repeating himself like a preacher on how “I want transparency” only adds to the sinister dance.

Available on the album ‘Mindset’ is released by Blanc Check

http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall

From ‘Children of Nature’, the excellent first album by Mark Reeder and Alanas Chosnau, ‘Heavy Rainfall’ was a song seemingly having an environmental reference but actually reflecting on the world’s increasingly disturbing political climate. Like a grooving NEW ORDER disco number with Reeder’s rhythm guitar syncopating off an exquisite range of electronic patterns while some spacey magic flies within the exquisite soundscape. Chosnau solemnly announces the storm warning, yet his message to hang on remains positive as light is seen at the end of the tunnel.

Available on the album ‘Children of Nature’ via https://markreeder.bandcamp.com/album/children-of-nature

https://alanaschosnau.com/

https://www.facebook.com/markreeder.mfs/


GARY DALY 80s Electro 2

‘Luna Landings’, the second solo offering from Gary Daly was the next best thing to a CHINA CRISIS instrumental album but then it sort of was, comprising of various demos and sketches that Daly originally recorded on his TEAC and Tascam Portastudios between 1981 to 1987. A highly enjoyable record that channelled a laid back demeanour to aid relaxation and escape, despite the age of the recordings, the air and hiss from the incumbent machinery added an endearingly earthy quality to proceedings. One of the highlights ‘80s Electro 2’ did exactly as the title suggested.

Available on the album ‘Luna Landings’ via https://www.musicglue.com/gary-daly/products/luna-landings-cd

https://www.instagram.com/garydalymusic/


DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip (2020)

Hygiene strips are now common place as reminders of social distancing, so a gesture of solidarity with fellow humans, DUBSTAR presented this poignant song at the height of the 2020 UK lockdown. Working with Stephen Hague and DUBSTAR who co-produced their hits ‘Not So Manic Now’ and ‘Stars’, the writing and recording was completed remotely. There was a forlorn presence in Sarah Blackwood’s vocal but also the subtle lifting air of PET SHOP BOYS to offer some hope in the haze of melancholy.

Available on the digital single ‘Hygiene Strip’ via Northern Writes

https://www.dubstarofficial.co/


ANI GLASS Ynys Araul (OMD Remix)

With her long-awaited debut album ‘Mirores’, ANI GLASS had the honour of being shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize. An observational electronic travelogue based around the idea of movement and progress in her hometown of Cardiff, one of the highlights was the Euro-disco of ‘Ynys Araul’. Rich in traditional melody with a lovely high vocal register while offering a pop sensibility and a wonderful triplet bassline, it was given a subtle remix by her one-time mentor Andy McCluskey who she had worked with as a Mk2 member of GENIE QUEEN.

Available on the digital single ‘Ynys Araul’ via  https://aniglass.bandcamp.com/album/ynys-araul

https://www.facebook.com/aniglasscymru/


GLÜME Come Softly To Me

From the Italians Do It Better stable, home to CHROMATICS and DESIRE, the mysterious but glamourous GLÜME offered this lovely eerie ‘Twin Peaks’ styled cover of ‘Come Softly To Me’. More chilling and metronomic than the almost acapella song written and made famous by THE FLEETWOODS in 1958, the original vocal hook was transferred to synth. Her version captured the innocence of forgotten yesterdays in the pursuit of today with its hypnotic arrangement and her lush but tragic Marilyn Monroe meets Julee Cruise delivery.

Available on the digital single ‘Come Softly To Me’ via Italians Do It Better

https://www.instagram.com/babyglume/


HILTIPOP Time

HILTIPOP might be a new name in electronic pop but the man behind it is something of a veteran. Magnus Johansson’s best known project internationally has been ALISON, but he began working on solo material and launched HILTIPOP with a triumphant early afternoon slot at Electronic Summer 2015. It would be 2018 before his first release ‘The Pattern’. Johansson’s sombre darker-tinged pop style fused is evident on ‘Time’, with a sample of SIMPLE MINDS ‘Theme For Great Cities’ thrown into a dynamic squelch fest.

Available on the digital EP ‘The Man’ via Hoyt Burton Records

https://soundcloud.com/sem-hilti-johansson


INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP The Tower

After an excellent self-titled debut album, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP brought more of their danceable synthy togetherness to home discos with ‘Pop Gossip’. With a sardonic twist and perhaps referring to the soap opera that is the status of HRH Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the brilliantly uptempo album closer ‘The Tower’ amusingly imagines Queen Elizabeth II telling her Beefeaters to “Take them to The Tower, it’s a beautiful day, take them away!” like a future scene from series 8 of ‘The Crown’!

Available on the album ‘Pop Gossip’ via Desolate Spools

https://www.facebook.com/internationalteachersofpop/


KID MOXIE Big In Japan

Unwittingly reflecting the pandemic crisis, KID MOXIE composed the soundtrack to a film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’. The plot centred around a womanizer who finds out he is a carrier of a sexually transmitted virus, lethal only to women! She said of ‘Big In Japan’: “It didn’t feel right to necessarily use drums because I did want to take a departure from the ALPHAVILLE original. There was already a strong rhythm element with the synth bass and it takes it to a different place by having a woman sing it.”

Available on the album ‘Not to Be Unpleasant, But We Need to Have a Serious Talk’ via Lakeshore Records

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


KITE Teenage Bliss

Exploring the innocence of ‘Teenage Bliss’, the most recent singular offering from KITE was co-produced by Benjamin John Power, best known as Scared Bones artist BLANCK MASS. The dynamic uptempo combination was wonderfully hymn-like, with Stenemo telling his congregation that “Teenage bliss, there ain’t no consequences in your life and you don’t know what tragedy is” before the bittersweet revelation that “In the end, no-one wins!” as “life is not like your first kiss…”

Available on the digital single ‘Teenage Bliss’ via Astronaut Recordings

https://www.facebook.com/KiteHQ


LASTLINGS Held Under

Recalling melodic 21st Century dance-friendly acts like San Francisco’s ANDAIN, LASTLINGS are a Japanese Australian sibling duo comprising of Amy and Josh Dowdle whose debut album title ‘First Contact’ was a reference to the thrill and despair of notable life milestones like first love and first heartbreak. Capturing the anxiety of growing up and the unknown of adult independence, the ethereal electronic drama of ‘Held Under’ was one of its highlights, using subtle house influences while maximising a hauntingly treated layers of female voice.

Available on the album ‘First Contact’ via Rose Avenue Records

http://www.lastlings.com/


LINEA ASPERA Event Horizon

LINEA ASPERA released their self-titled debut album in 2012. A collection of dark but danceable electronic pop, before any new listeners had an opportunity to discover and savour them, the duo had already disbanded in 2013. The duo reunited in 2019 and on the superb ‘Event Horizon’, the cutting synthesized hooks, disco drum box rhythms and supreme vocals confirmed how LINEA ASPERA have become such a highly rated and beloved duo and why their magnificent melodic melancholy had been so missed over the past few years.

Available on the album ‘LP II’ from https://lineaaspera.bandcamp.com/album/linea-aspera-lp-ii

https://www.facebook.com/lineaaspera


NIGHT CLUB Die In The Disco

In a typically NIGHT CLUB twist, the duo found their perfect co-conspirator in former SKINNY PUPPY member Dave “Rave” Ogilvie who mixed Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2011 worldwide smash hit ‘Call Me Maybe’. ‘Die In The Disco’ set the ‘Die Die Lullaby’ album off with a slice of throbbing HI-NRG disco, donning its hat to Giorgio Moroder and Bobby Orlando before asking to “take me to a place I can dance” and an unsettling ghostly pitch-shifted voice exclaims that ”This is my party and I will die if I want to…”

Available on the album ‘Die Die Lullaby’ via Gato Blanco

https://nightclubband.com/


NINA Where It Ends

Much has changed for NINA. First the German songstress made some life changes and moved back to Berlin just as the world went into lockdown. ‘Runaway’ from this year’s ‘Synthian’ album declared she “searching for a way out”. So it was only natural that any new material would be influenced by the uncertainty and sombre realities of what was happening around her. The self-explanatory ‘Where It Ends’ made something of a sombre statement with the introspective tones of DE/VISION in building towards a steadfast gothic schwing and penetrating synth solo.

Available on the digital EP ‘Control’ via Lakeshore Records

https://www.iloveninamusic.com/


PET SHOP BOYS Will-O-The-Wisp

A ghostly light seen by travellers at night that refers to ignis fatuus or “foolish fire”, the astute intelligence of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe saw Medieval folk mythology referenced for ‘Will-O-The-Wisp, a fabulous PET SHOP BOYS dance tune with catchy hooks and a dry monologue. From the third of a trilogy of long players produced by Stuart Price and recorded in Berlin’s renowned Hansa Studios, the duo’s fourteen album ‘Hotspot’ maintained the duo’s position as exemplary English songsmiths.

Available on the album ‘Hotspot’ via x2 Recordings

http://www.petshopboys.co.uk/


PISTON DAMP Something in Me

PISTON DAMP are a new electronic pop duo based in Norway comprising of Jonas Groth and Truls Sønsterud. ‘Something In Me’ is what APOPTYGMA BERZERK or AESTHETIC PERFECTION would sound like if they were in full synthpop mode. Catchy, bubbly, melodic and rhythmic with an emotively spirited vocal, when Jonas Groth hits falsetto, it provides a most gloriously optimistic lift that is reminiscent of APOP’s more immediate work, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he is part of their live line-up in support of his brother Stephan.

Available on the digital single ‘Something In Me’ via Sub Culture Records

https://www.pistondamp.com/


DANA JEAN PHOENIX & POWERNERD Fight These Robots

Recording a collaborative album with Austria’s POWERNERD, the joyous result ‘Megawave’ was Canadian synth starlet Dean Jean Phoenix’s most sonically consistent body of work yet, reflecting her powerhouse stage persona in recorded form fully for the first time. A fun and dynamic collection, the album’s highlight ‘Fight These Robots’ was a classic funky Sci-Fi number with a dose of girly cheekiness and a reflection of a childhood watching ‘Transformers’ cartoons.

Available on the album ‘Megawave’ via Outland Recordings

http://www.facebook.com/danajeanphoenix

https://www.facebook.com/powernerdmusic


POLYCHROME Starts With A Kiss

Having described themselves as “Slacker synth-wave refuseniks”, POLYCHROME and their brand of filmic dreamwave as showcased on their self-titled 2018 debut album found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world, particularly ‘Final Kiss’. Continuing the kissing theme, their recorded return Starts With A Kiss’ featured an unexpected but fitting guitar solo from Bjorn Agren of RAZORLIGHT but made extra special by the dreamy voice of Vicky Harrison who said “we’d finished with a kiss, so now wanted to start with one”.

Available on the digital single ‘Starts With A Kiss’ via Outland Recordings

http://soundofpolychrome.com/


FINLAY SHAKESPEARE Occupation

For Bristol-based Finlay Shakespeare, his interest in synths came from his parents’ record collection, with music from the likes of KRAFTWERK, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JAPAN. His second album ‘Solemnities’ was a more focussed progression from his debut ‘Domestic Economy’, making the most of a crystal clear modular synth sound coupled to his claustrophobic anxious vocals. The superb ‘Occupation’ was a metronomic squelch fest about social injustice with our hero conducting a raucous avant noise experiment in song with penetrating noise percussion and icy string machines.

Available on the album ‘Solemnities’ via Editions Mego

http://finlayshakespeare.com/


EMILIE SIMON Cette Ombre

With her arty but catchy electronic pop, Emilie Simon studied at the Sorbonne and her only release primarily English release was ‘The Big Machine’ in 2009. Using Martian invaders as a metaphor to the world pandemic, she felt the need to express her feelings on the ‘Mars on Earth 2020’ EP. The best track from it was the powerful ‘Cette Ombre (This Shadow)’ on which she summised “Planet Earth is under attack. Faced with an unknown invader, humanity is experiencing an unprecedented shift. What will remain of it?”

Available on the digital EP ‘Mars On Earth 2020’ via Vegetal

http://www.emiliesimon.com/


THE SMASHING PUMKINS Cyr

Now adding a “THE” to prefix their name, SMASHING PUMPKINS surprised many with a splendid synth friendly single entitled ‘Cyr’. With hooks very reminiscent of ‘Enjoy The Silence’, Billy Corgan & Co went synthpop with much of the track being of an electronic bent, particularly the synthetic bass. Not only that but ‘Cyr’ was also quite catchy in an almost DURAN DURAN vein! It was magnificent surprise that only highlighted the hopelessness of the more recent material from DEPECHE MODE.

Available on the album ‘Cyr’ via Sumerian Records / Warner Music Group

https://smashingpumpkins.com/


SNS SENSATION Small World

If there was a song that captures the claustrophobic solitude of lockdown isolation, then it was the appropriately titled ‘Small World’ by SNS SENSATION, the new musical vehicle of Sebastian Muravchik, best known as the charismatic front man of HEARTBREAK. A song about self-isolation during the pandemic crisis, ‘Small World’ was a throbbing electronic number with icy rhythms, marrying the elegance of minimal synth with the melodic presence of Italo disco, reminiscent of VISAGE’s ‘I’m Still Searching’ and PET SHOP BOYS ‘Miserabilsm’.

Available on the download single ‘Small World’ via https://wearesns.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/wearesns/


SPARKS One For The Ages

Less than three years after ‘Hippopotamus’, SPARKS offered ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’. As idiosyncratic as ever, if there was a key track, then it was the glorious ‘One For The Ages’; with a narrative about craving artistic longevity, the lines “As I write my tome every single night, my eyes show the strain of computer light but I’m pressing on” captured the lot of the creative mind. Already very synthy, the Mael Brothers probably could have made it even synthier!

Available on the album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’ via BMG

http://allsparks.com/


ZACHERY ALLAN STARKEY featuring BERNARD SUMNER Force

With two albums ‘DIY’ and ‘Hard Power’ already under his belt, since opening for NEW ORDER on the ‘Music Complete’ tour in 2016, Zachery Allan Starkey has been working hard on observational concept album ‘Fear City’. ‘Force’ was a powerful collaboration with Bernard Sumner featuring his signature Italo-influenced sequencing style. Starkey’s impassioned authentic vocals were a rallying call to the people with the daunting prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected on the horizon. Thankfully, the message on jointly produced track was heeded.

Available on the album ‘Fear City’ via https://zasmusic.bandcamp.com/album/fear-city-album

https://www.zacheryallanstarkey.com/


ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat

ULTRAFLEX are a new Norwegian Icelandic duo based in Berlin who describe themselves as “The new teen sensation” with an interest in Soviet disco, athleisure and weirdo boogie. However, Kari Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir are perhaps better known by their solo monikers FARAO and SPECIAL-K respectively. ‘Olympic Sweat’ was uplifting disco lento with an organic heart, a pretty tune with an expansive sweeping resonance that was reminiscent of SIN COS TAN, PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, but with a feminine twist.

Available on the album ‘Visions Of Ultraflex’ via Street Pulse Records

https://www.facebook.com/ultraflexband


UNIFY SEPARATE Solitude & I

If there was a musical duo who visually symbolise the dystopian paranoia of the world pandemic crisis, then it is UNIFY SEPARATE, formally known as US. ‘Solitude & I’ was a natural progression of the material on ‘First Contact’ with Andrew Montgomery not letting up with his Jeff Buckley inspired vocal delivery, reflecting the isolation and uncertain future many are currently feeling as “There’s nobody out there, no-one but you and I”. Anthemic, uplifting and optimistic, it was a message to all about never giving up on your dreams.

Available on the digital single ‘Solitude & I’ via https://unifyseparate.bandcamp.com/

http://www.unifyseparate.com


VANDAL MOON Suicidal City Girl

Capturing a dystopian outlook on life with an appealing electronic sensibility, ‘Black Kiss’ was the best VANDAL MOON album yet. With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, they are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals. The superb electro-gothic aesthetics of ‘Suicidal City Girl’ recalled the enthralling tension of THE DANSE SOCIETY and a highlight of a record with many highlights.

Available on the album ‘Black Kiss’ via Starfield Music

https://www.vandalmoon.com/


MARVA VON THEO Forever

On ‘Forever’, Greek dark synth songstress Marva Von Theo channelled the frantic tone of ‘River In Me’, the Anders Trentemøller’s collaboration with Jenny Vee of SAVAGES, into a great atmospheric art pop statement on redemption and eternity. A track from her upcoming second album ‘Afterglow’, with determined vocals and punchy beats, ‘Forever’ demonstrated, along with its singular follow-up ‘Ruins’, a significant artistic progression since her promising but unfulfilled debut long player ‘Dream Within A Dream’.

Available on the digital single ‘Forever’ via Marva Von Theo

https://marvavontheo.com


WHITE DOOR Resurrection

Melodic synth trio WHITE DOOR released their only album ‘Windows’ in 1983 but despite BBC Radio1 airplay, were unable to gain wider traction. WHITE DOOR gained cult status and one young fan was Swedish synthesist Johan Baeckström who joined the band for their return. Acknowledging the theme of ’Get Carter’ but with a more brassy flair, ’Resurrection’ surprised with a bouncy Moroder-inspired stomp while Mac Austin managed to sound like a cross between Morten Harket and Chris De Burgh around some beautifully symphonic synth.

Available on the album ‘The Great Awakening’ via Progress Productions

https://www.facebook.com/whitedoorband/


A broader selection of music from the year is gathered in The Electricity Club’s 2020 Vision playlist at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/75LrsXIgakcoP03WYtDsLZ


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th December 2020

THE BEAUTY OF THE SYNTHESIZER

Following the publication of a ‘25 Frontwomen That Defined Britpop Beauty’ list by fashion blog Never Under Dressed, The Electricity Club pondered as to what a synthpop list would look like…

The Electricity Club readily admits it features a significant number of new female fronted synth acts. In TEC’s opinion, many of these artists are pushing the genre forward in directions that have not been pursued previously.

In the Synth Britannia heyday, other than Alison Moyet, Annie Lennox, Gillian Gilbert, Claudia Brücken and Terri Nunn, there were very few women involved in electronic pop music as equals.

Of course, today it is very different. Portable music technology accessible via laptops and compact keyboards such as the MicroKorg has opened up endless possibilities for the independent female musician. So when a classic styled synthpop track has feminine voices and talent driving it, there is a freshness to the approach that manages to avoid sounding completely retro. With so much being hung on a so-called synth revival, there are a number of male dominated acts that are quite clearly pastiches of key bands from back in the day.

So in alphabetical order and confined to women who front primarily electronic acts and / or play synths in the new millennium, here are The Electricity Club’s choices to represent The Beauty Of The Synthesizer…


MIRA AROYO

While LADYTRON are very much a quartet musically, imagewise it has been the band’s female pair who have been the focal point. When Mira Aroyo first appeared on the scene, her icy East European demeanour suited the band’s dark terrorist chic meets the catwalk. With a look akin to the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang, Mira was armed with a Korg MS20 as her weapon of choice. As well as DJing, other projects have included her stark deadpan presence on the appropriately dystopian ‘Watching A Building On Fire’ with JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS in 2011.

http://www.ladytron.com/


AU REVOIR SIMONE

AuRevoirSimone2014It’s triple keyboard action with Brooklyn’s studious librarians whose shows are a bit like musical slumber parties. No-one in the band is called Simone; there’s Erika Forster, Annie Hart and Heather D’Angelo who each have their own sweet sense of style while handling an assorted array of synths including the Nord Electro2, Roland Juno 60, Casiotone MT70 and ubiquitous MicroKorg. With four albums to their name, AU REVOIR SIMONE are still very much considered hipster faves although they are a symbol of how the synthesizer can be universally integrated.

http://aurevoirsimone.com/


SARAH BLACKWOOD

sarah-blackwood_2010The charming, down-to-earth lass from Halifax has been a stylish presence since first hitting the mainstream with DUBSTAR in 1995, who managed to combine synth melodies with the more guitar laden manifesto of Britpop. Sarah Blackwood’s girl-next-door charm has always been her appeal but when she formed CLIENT with Kate Holmes to adopt a harsher electronic sound complimented by the duo’s uniformed Cold War chic, Sarah’s position as a modern day synth icon was assured.

http://www.eblackwood.com/


FEATHERS

Feathers-AnastasiaDimouThe all female Texas based quartet feature a flexible line-up, but the one constant in FEATHERS is singer / songwriter / programmer Anastasia Dimou. As one can expect from a lady of Greek ancestry, Anastasia has an enigmatic Goddess-like quality about her that with her bandmates, results in a mysterious odyssey best exemplified by the video to debut single ‘Land Of The Innocent’. Musically, FEATHERS’ sound could be likened to THE BANGLES fronting DEPECHE MODE. They supported Basildon’s finest on the final European leg of the ‘Delta Machine’ tour.

http://www.feathers.fm/


ALISON GOLDFRAPP

goldfrappModern electropop’s most influential chameleon. From thigh booted dominatrix, to unicorn tailed X-rated Kylie and even sexy pink jump suited alien, costume has always been a way of overcoming Miss Goldfrapp’s awkwardness with being a pop star. Her presentation sensibilities have ensured that all the looks have been alluring; “She’s got great legs!” observed Sarah Blackwood. Meanwhile, her on-stage antics using a portable Theremin have been unforgettable; “Every girl should have one” she cackled when GOLDFRAPP supported DURAN DURAN in 2004.

http://goldfrapp.com/


GRIMES

GRIMES-2014Montreal’s GRIMES aka Claire Boucher and her faithful Roland Juno G have provided some interesting hybrid electro influenced by K-Pop, New Age and R ‘n’ B. Her kooky charm, leftfield aspirations and macabre artwork have impressed both hipsters and old fashioned synthheads alike. Her new song ‘Go’ features perhaps a more soulful, laid back groove whilst still playing around with technologically manipulated sound sources as she prepares to deliver even further after her acclaimed album ‘Visions’ in 2012.

http://www.grimesmusic.com


PATRICIA HALL

Soft-Metals-korgSOFT METALS lead vocalist Patricia Hall has that look which wouldn’t be out of place in the Shoreditch set, but her willingness to join in the synth battles with her partner Ian Hicks makes her all the more appealing. Although she has described her look as being influenced by the timeless style Françoise Hardy and Jane Birkin, she has admitted that most of the SOFT METALS kitty ends up buying equipment rather than clothes. Her favourite synth happens to be the Roland Juno60, thanks to its patch memory and user friendly layout.

https://www.facebook.com/softmetals


IMOGEN HEAP

Imogen-HeapWith her eccentric professor persona, Ms Heap could be considered to be the female Thomas Dolby. As well as being a crowdfunding trailblazer, she has also been involved in the development of new musical interfaces like the MIDI Glove, which she describes as an extension of her “no smoke no mirrors” approach with her audience. And she’s not to be messed with either; when an advance promo copy of her 2009 album ‘Ellipse’ appeared on eBay, she rallied her loyal followers to sabotage the sale with bids of £10,000 and complaints to the online auctioneer.

http://www.imogenheap.co.uk/


I AM SNOW ANGEL

The location of the 1980 Winter Olympics, it is the apt that this village in the Adirondack Mountains should be at the heart of the beautifully gentle electronica of I AM SNOW ANGEL. The self-produced vehicle of the now Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Julie Kathryn, as can be imagined from the artist moniker, the music evokes images of icy landscapes and crystalline hydro basins. Proficient as a singer, songwriter, musician and producer, she adds some traditional Americana twang to the electronica aesthetic which in itself, is quietly subversive.

http://www.iamsnowangel.com


KID MOXIE

kid moxieBWThe stunning multi-talented Elena Charbila is a proficient bassist and programmer. Her abilities also extend into acting where she has appeared alongside Al Pacino and Malcolm McDowell. While her music has moved towards a cinematic electronic direction on her most recent offering ‘The Bailor’ the Greek born beauty has a love of pop music in all its forms which feeds her artistic mindset. One of her favourite all-time records is ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ by The Walker Brothers. Her second album ‘1888’ features contributions from Angelo Badalamenti.

https://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie


LITTLE BOOTS

Boots newWith her Korg Polysix, MicroKorg and Yamaha Tenorion, LITTLE BOOTS aka Victoria Hesketh perhaps represented what Joanne and Susanne from THE HUMAN LEAGUE would have done had they been teenagers in the 21st Century, ie get a laptop and take up the synthesizer themselves, rather than join a band of blokeys! She remains first and foremost, a musician / songwriter and whether she will ever recover from 679 / Atlantic Records attempt to turn her into the new Kylie Minogue remains to be seen.

http://www.littlebootsmusic.co.uk/


MARNIE

Marnie_pool

Photo by Lisa Devine Photography

If Mira Aroyo is the Anni-Frid Lyngstad of LADYTRON, then Helen Marnie is Agnetha Fältskog. The sweeter, more pop inclined of the pair, Helen certainly appeared at home with a more glamorous image when LADYTRON relaxed their uniformed stance after their third album ‘Witching Hour’. It was probably Helen who persuaded Mira Aroyo to sport swimwear on their 2003 DJ mix compilation ‘Softcore Jukebox’. She is obviously comfortable with that look as she has continued with the swimwear and gone for some glossy imagery in support of her pristine first solo album ‘Crystal World’.

https://www.facebook.com/helen.marnie.official


MARSHEAUX

MARSHEAUX-queensThe Athens based synth maidens borrowed their uniformed look from CLIENT, but have carved out their own wispy form of synthpop while performing in unison on a pair of MicroKorgs. Marianthi Melitsi is the Helen Marnie of the pair with her sweet vocals and porcelain looks. Meanwhile, Sophie Sarigiannidou is more akin to Mira Aroyo with a more smouldering demeanour which is deadpan in comparison. Their understated glamour has attained MARSHEAUX a cult following in Europe and gained admirers as diverse as OMD and 30 SECONDS TO MARS.

https://www.facebook.com/marsheaux


LAUREN MAYBERRY

Photo copyright of Vikki McCraw

Miss Mayberry looks like she would be ID-ed at every licensed venue she is due to be playing at. But behind the sweet Humanities undergraduate look is a strong minded writer and campaigner for women’s rights. Despite the serious misogynistic abuse she has had to confront since the success of CHVRCHES, she retains a terrific sense of humour while performing… well, she would have to every time Blokey steps up to the microphone and tries to upstage her! What must she be thinking from behind that Roland A800?!

http://chvrch.es/home/


ANAIS NEON

VileNeon2Anais Neon from VILE ELECTRODES is a synth nerd’s dream, she played the part of Gillian Gilbert in the NEW ORDER tribute band RE: ORDER. She was once mistaken for Hannah Peel… this was not an entirely ridiculous observation as both have long red hair, but this incident took place at a JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS concert while Hannah was on stage with the electro pioneer! When VILE ELECTRODES supported OMD in Cologne, Anais endearingly said the only phrase she knew in Deutsch was “Mein Kannichen ist töt”… now what’s the German word for “batteries” again?

http://www.facebook.com/vileelectrodes


SARAH NIXEY

sarah_nixey“I was brought up to the sound of the synthesizer, I learnt to dance to the beat of electronic drums” proclaimed Miss Nixey on the song ‘Andrew Ridgley’ in 2003. With BLACK BOX RECORDER, her sophisticated allure has probably been exasperated by her ice cold lack of availability. The sexy school headmistress fantasy was fully exploited on songs such as ‘The Facts of Life’and ‘The School Song’. “You lot need toughening up” she deadpanned on the latter as the order to dive into an outdoor swimming pool in the middle of February was given!

http://www.sarahnixey.com/


KARIN PARK

Karin-Park1The statuesque Swede has a towering, entrancing presence on stage with her animated stares and jerky movements. Between songs and offstage though, Karin Park is gregarious; quite the opposite of the other Karin (Dreijer-Andersson). An impressive multi-tasker who dabbles with a Korg MS20 and keytar as part of her act, she even succeeded in penning a credible Eurovision entry with the DM influenced ‘I Feed You My Love’ for Norwegian popstress Margaret Berger. Following the critical success of ‘Highwire Poetry’, her new album is eagerly awaited.

http://www.karinpark.com/


PAWWS

PAWWS_press_shot_credit-SIMON_WISBEYKnown to her parents as Lucy Taylor, the earthy flute playing North Londoner has done stints touring with MGMT, but having acquired a Roland JX8P and borrowed a Jupiter 8, her own sugary pop sound has been bolstered by a use of classic electronics. The Sunday Times described the title song from PAWWS‘ EP ‘Sugar’ as sounding “As if Kylie had worked with OMD” and as she finds her feet, she could fill the void left open by LITTLE BOOTS and LA ROUX for a UK synth songstress.

https://www.pawwsmusic.co.uk


HANNAH PEEL

Hannah Peel 2014If Berenice Scott is the sexy but strict school teacher of the list, then Hannah Peel is her sweet, smiling student counterpart. Known as part of JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS’ live presentation, the former Dennis Leigh described her look as being straight out the Andy Warhol ‘Exploding Plastic Inevitable’ scene. The multi-talented Hannah has the most captivating synth girl wiggle while playing along to tracks such as ‘Catwalk’. Her own burgeoning solo career has seen her experimenting more with synthesizers as heard on her ‘Fabricstate’ EP.

http://www.hannahpeel.com


QUEEN OF HEARTS

Queen-of-Hearts-1-431x655If Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES can sometimes sound like Taylor Swift gone electro, then our young royal looks like Taylor Swift gone electro via Queen Amidala. She once tweeted: “If it ain’t electro, I don’t wish to know x”. Her debut album ‘Cocoon’ has been a long time coming but she has been steadily carving out a elegant niche and even adding her own vocals to DAFT PUNK instrumentals from ‘Tron Legacy’. QUEEN OF HEARTS‘ cooing allure has won over many fans including Berlin based producer Mark Reeder, who has now worked with her on several occasions.

http://www.iamqueenofhearts.com/


FIFI RONG

FifiRong-01Beijing born Fifi Rong has taken music and fashion into some intriguing fusions. She first came to prominence as a member of THE TENORIONS, but has since embarked on a journey which has involved collaborations with TRICKY and releasing her first album ‘Wrong’ in 2013. With influences such as COCTEAU TWINS and MAZZY STAR, the development of her own traditionally inspired brand of crisp electronica has resulted in ‘Next Pursuit’, possibly her best work to date.

http://fifirong.com/


MARINA SCHIPTJENKO

Marina_pageThe ever smiling Maria Schiptjenko, along with Gillian Gilbert, was one of the first female synth players following the post-punk revolution as a member of Swedish duo PAGE, although their first album did not appear until 1991. Also a member of BWO, VACUUM and more recently JULIAN & MARINA, she has always possessed a European elegance that has served her well in all her projects, be they in music or art. Another exponent of the MicroKorg, Marina’s sophisticated poise has complimented the more intense, animated stance of PAGE partner Eddie Bengtsson on their recent live dates.

https://www.facebook.com/PageElektroniskPop


POLLY SCATTERGOOD

Polly-Scattergood-MuteWith key influences such as Bjork and Kate Bush, Polly Scattergood has combined jubilant experimental pop with her innocent, affected vocals. At times like GOLDFRAPP crossed with COCTEAU TWINS and rousing with an air of fragility, her kooky on-stage persona delightfully combines Sarah Brightman with Sally Thomsett. Meanwhile, her lyrical vulnerability, as best exemplified on her most recent album ‘Arrows,’ is perfect listening on those rainy winter nights. And she even has her own Polly Moog, a Little Phatty no less!

http://www.pollyscattergood.com/


BERENICE SCOTT

Photo by Richard Price

Berenice Scott is currently HEAVEN 17’s live keyboardist and a solo artist in her own right with a new album ‘Polarity’ having just been released. TEC once described Berenice as “possibly the sexiest lady ever to get behind a synthesizer”. With her synth of choice being the Roland Fantom G8, in her short skirt and high heels, her appeal is enhanced even further by the fact she reminds you of your favourite school teacher. This is especially evoked with her raised eyebrow and stern look of disapproval whenever Messrs Gregory and Ware are larking about in front of her ‘desk’! No, she doesn’t smile much on stage, but like any good teacher, she is fully focussed on her job.

https://berenicescott.com/


EMILIE SIMON

As referenced in the PET SHOP BOYS song ‘Opportunities’, Mademoiselle Simon studied electronic music at the Sorbonne and then later the IRCAM. There she found “Using the computer meant that I also felt very independent artistically”. With a Kate Bush influenced dynamic, she exudes Gallic beauty and charm in her one woman shows where the Yamaha Tenorion and Casio guitar synth feature in addition to her array of keyboards. She also has a device not unlike Imogen Heap’s MIDI Gloves, courtesy of a Steampunk styled arm controller developed by Cyrille Brissot.

http://www.emiliesimon.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th June 2014, updated 13th May 2017

EMILIE SIMON The Big Machine

EMILIE SIMON’s ‘The Big Machine’ has finally secured a UK release and a good thing too.

With the recent success of LITTLE BOOTS and the return of GOLDFRAPP, this electro princess has timed her entrance at just the right moment to join the party and unleash her Gallic style of avant-pop. This chanteuse from Montpellier has been a leading exponent of electro-chanson in her home country for several years now, releasing her first self-titled album in 2003 and winning critical acclaim. Her second album in 2006 ‘Végétal’ continued her success while her original score to the European version of the film ‘March of the Penguins’ helped maintain her profile.

Her covers ranging from DAVID BOWIE’s ‘Space Oddity’ and IGGY POP’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ to the more traditional ‘La Vie En Rose’ showed her diverse range of influences. But as with all music artists, the ambition for more people hear your work always prevails.

So looking forward internationally and with backing from the massive Universal Music corporation, her new album ‘The Big Machine’ becomes her first to be completely sung in English, although a few songs feature phrases in French. Emilie has produced the album and written the majority of the music herself, but some of the lyrics have been written by English novelist Graham Joyce. The album’s release in France last September attracted an initially mixed response. Predictably, there was criticism to her singing in English and some even accused her of trying to go mainstream.

While EMILIE SIMON’s use of the Yamaha Tenorion during her live shows may mark her out as the French LITTLE BOOTS, her artistic ambitions while using synthesizer technology put her more in same circles as GOLDFRAPP or BJORK. ‘Dreamland’ is a case in point. Weird and arty with toy pianos and Theremins but at the same time, accessible with a rousing chorus; it has an esoteric quality to takes female-fronted electro off the dancefloor and into the study.

Uptempo opener ‘Rainbow’ is driven by buzzing bass synths alongside brass stabs before heading into a piano driven chorus that inevitably recalls KATE BUSH. And it’s this trait that will repel or endear you. However, Emilie’s voice possesses a feline beauty and while firmly singing in a higher register, her gorgeous accented tones ooze sensuality. But as the real Kate hasn’t produced anything worthwhile for many years, why not let her musical descendents take up the mantel and try to add something new to the template?

On the brilliant ‘Chinatown’ in particular, Emilie shows her love of the pentatonic scales in her vocals and instrumentation which punctuate the entire album. Not since JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’ has there been a European act that has successfully utilised such an electronically derived ethnic feel to as much effect.

In common with that album, ‘The Big Machine’ is uncluttered, using space and silence as effectively as the noise which makes up the music. At times, the aural stylings also bring to mind David Sylvian’s underrated protogees SANDII & THE SUNSETZ who supported JAPAN on their final 1982 tour.

The Oriental flavour continues on one of the album’s best tracks ‘The Cycle’ and the amazingly eclectic ‘The Way I See You’ which somehow manages to mix in some Balearic beats and a children’s choir.

‘Nothing To Do With You’ and ‘Ballad Of The Machine’ are more in the traditional kooky girl on a piano vein but even on these types of songs, there is always a smattering of inventive electro madness to redress the balance. Mademoiselle Simon is nothing short of quirky as her electro jazz tap number ‘Rocket To The Moon’ proves.

But don’t let the concept deter you… it’s finger clickin’ good! Think ‘Satin Chic’ by GOLDFRAPP! Punchy brass, thumping timpani and detuned bursts of synth modulation only add to this impressive highlight.

This is such a diverse and interesting take on electronic music. It’s a rewarding left-field pop album. If you like a challenge, then ‘The Big Machine’ may be for you.

With the open minded musical landscape in the UK at the moment, Florence and Marina need to watch their backs as this raven haired beauty comes over to these shores!


‘The Big Machine’ is released by Universal Music

EMILIE SIMON plays at London’s Jazz Cafe on Tuesday 20th April 2010

https://www.facebook.com/emiliesimonofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
18th March 2010, updated 20th October 2013

EMILIE SIMON Live at the Jazz Café

In the intimate confines of London’s Jazz Café, electronic chanteuse EMILIE SIMON gave a rare UK performance showcasing her first British release ‘The Big Machine’.

Although firmly established as a star in France since 2004 with her self-titled debut and its follow up ‘Vegetal’, ‘The Big Machine’ is the Brooklyn-based Mademoiselle’s first album primarily sung in English. Writing, playing, programming and producing all her own work, EMILIE SIMON is an embodiment of the truly independent female artist such as a KATE BUSH or a BJORK. As in the PET SHOP BOYS song ‘Opportunities’, she studied at the Sorbonne and was later a student at the IRCAM (L’Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique) which is a leader in its research into sound and electronic music.

Her intricate synthetic textures and KATE BUSH influenced dynamic have transcended cultural barriers and appealed to a worldwide audience fascinated by her Gallic charm and inventive intelligent songwriting.

As the lights went down, she arrived on stage to a rapturous welcome completely solo and wearing a glamourous gold shoulder pad outfit. Wonderfully kooky, she slightly lost her footing as she stepped towards her ‘Big Machine’ but then kicked off her heels and opened with a bleepy sound collage before launching into ‘The Devil At My Door’. As well as her keyboard, laptop and a variety of synths, Emilie is accompanied by her faithful Yamaha Tenorion and an amazing effects gauntlet on her arm to provide all manner of echoes, phasing and distortion.

As she quickly went into the brilliant ‘Dreamland’, the heavy bass synths resonated around the venue while tinkling melodies complemented the avant electro. The chilling pentatonics of ‘Chinatown’ wonderfully run free while the satisfyingly incongruous Gregorian / Balearic hybrid of ‘The Way I See You’ actually gets some of the crowd singing along. Suitably impressed, Emilie glanced over to the protagonists and remarked “next time, you come up here and sing it with me”

One of the things that stand out this evening about EMILIE SIMON apart from her mastery of all the incumbent electronics is her voice. Whether she’s whispering or raging, her voice maintains a frisky feline quality.

It’s not for everyone, but it’s dynamic and expressive. For her, the voice is another instrument and in that respect, it almost goes unnoticed whether she’s actually singing in French or English, such is the beauty of the tracks on offer.

A stripped down interlude with the gorgeous ‘Flowers’ from her first album takes things down for a moment before Emilie swaps her acoustic guitar for a Casio guitar synth to play a fully mechanised beat cover of THE STOOGES’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. The brilliantly feisty result sounds like KRAFTWERK being eaten by BJORK and gets one of the biggest cheers of the night.

The climax to the show focuses on several key tracks from the new album including ‘The Cycle’ and ‘Rainbow’ before closing with electro-jazz tap of ‘Rocket To The Moon’. Here, Emilie grins and sexily finger clicks as she delivers one of the highlights from ‘The Big Machine’ to get the crowd going all Balboa!

Returning for a well deserved encore, she rewarded all the appreciation with another acoustic guitar number in ‘Fleur De Saison’ before taking to the Jazz Café’s grand piano for ‘Desert’ and ‘Nothing To Do With You’. On the latter, EMILIE SIMON’s love of KATE BUSH fully lets rip with a few eccentric wails and some dramatic ivory runs!

The show is a brilliantly impressive performance from one of the most talented musicians on the scene at the moment.

Proficient on keyboards and guitar, a lover of modern technology and very strong in the vocal department, this little lady deserves to be heard. To use an old fashioned term, her music is a grower.

EMILIE SIMON’s recent ‘Bedford’ live sessions on YouTube have echoed LITTLE BOOTS’ early bedroom performance clips and tonight’s charming solo electro-girl theatrics may now have indicated that she’s asserted herself in the territory that Miss Hesketh has vacated to pursue a more conventional pop career.

EMILIE SIMON will appeal to those who loved the original ‘concept’ of LITTLE BOOTS but may have been disappointed by the final product. C’est magnifique!


‘The Big Machine’ is released by Universal Music

https://www.facebook.com/emiliesimonofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
21st April 2010