DAILY PLANET came into being when two Swedes, Jarmo Ollila and Johan Baeckström decided to form a synthpop band in 1994.
Having released two noteworthy singles and a long player two years later, the band stopped with few promises of albums never quite materialising.
Surprisingly eighteen years on in 2014, the duo brought out an excellent comeback with ‘Two’, released by Progress Productions, home of the highly acclaimed KITE.
Neither of the two gents rested on their laurels however, with Baeckström bringing out his debut solo outing ‘Like Before’ shortly after. With the very obvious connotations to ERASURE and their sweetly synthesised gems, ‘Like Before’ sounded grown up and optimistic, proving that he could hold the notes as well as Ollila, sounding like Andy Bell himself in places.
But now DAILY PLANET are back with another surprising opus, which will turn heads and make folk reach for their dancing shoes. ‘Play Rewind Repeat’ hits straight up with ‘Goodbye Late Nights’, which doesn’t shy from using Clarke / Bell sound signatures, but as James Nice of the prestigious Belgian record label Les Disques du Crépuscule once put it: “I have no problem at all with something new being imitative, as long as it’s good”.
More thought provoking is ‘Grains Of Sand’ with its immaculate tempo changes and ‘Fire In Me’, which is reminiscent of the early works of DEPECHE MODE.
The title ‘Set Me Free’ to any self-respecting DEPECHE MODE fan will bring back memories of the B-Side to ‘Master And Servant’, but here it is faster and happier. And no, it’s not a cover. The mindful ‘Drown’ calms things down with elaborate synth masterdom and almost filigree textures in the production.
Cult British New Romantic act WHITE DOOR make an appearance on ‘Heaven’, with Mac Austin lending his vocal. The singer himself expressed his gratitude for the opportunity, saying that he was “so honoured to sing for my talented friends on this wonderful track”. Musically, this is an eclectic mix of the best of what the synth era has achieved; uncomplicated but very poignant, very DURAN DURAN.
‘Why’ is a bit A-HA, and with that, rather superb. No need for the time machine to go back thirty years. It’s ERASURE meets early DM, with an amazing amalgamation of analogue. The sweetest ‘Over Water’ exhibits elements of CAMOUFLAGE and the shine of ‘Silver Moon’ expands itself with wonderfully warm vocals and lovely musicality.
While ‘Tranquility’ isn’t tranquil at all, ‘Vicious Circle’ alludes to “going backwards in time”, which is a very fitting statement for the entire album.
The long player is closed with the dreamy ‘Weeping’, which sits supremely between PET SHOP BOYS and DM, and it wraps up the “time machine experience” beautifully. Time to rewind…
‘Play Rewind Repeat’ is simply what it says in the tin; you’ll play, you’ll rewind and you’ll certainly repeat, with the moods lifted and your feet sore.
So what if it reminds you of certain ERASURE, DM or YAZOO tracks? Johan Baeckström certainly doesn’t mind the comparisons.
Chatting to The Electricity Club last year, he said that “In my book, the two YAZOO albums are the pinnacle of electronic pop. It can’t get any more perfect than that”, adding “I can still remember exactly where I was when I first heard ‘Nobody’s Diary’, which was the song that opened a whole new world of synthpop for me. I think it’s only natural that this reflects in my own music and it is, by far, the most common comparison people make, which of course is flattering”.
The good memories are continuing, with new ones being built upon this capable production.
2014 saw the Vince Clarke / Andy Bell combo celebrate yet another success with ‘The Violet Flame’, where according to Bell, ERASURE “definitely found (their) mojo again with this record”.
Following their thirtieth anniversary, the synthpop kings now return with the seventeenth studio album entitled ‘World Be Gone’.
This time, self-produced by ERASURE and mixed by Matty Green, the long player sees Vince and Andy in a more pensive mood.
Joining their electronic colleagues PET SHOP BOYS and DEPECHE MODE who have both released politically charged opuses, the band reflects on the current political situation. However, ERASURE do it with an expression of faith in the future, as Bell explains: “I think there’s an under swell of opinion, and people are slowly waking up. I’m hoping that people will take the album in a positive way, that they’ll use it as optimistic rabble-rousing music.”
‘Love You To The Sky’ heralds the ten track outing. While it’s a pleasant sounding melody with Andy’s angelic voice and a rather captivating verse, the track struggles to lift to the heights which ERASURE are celebrated for. The beautifulness of the verses disperses with the repetitive chorus, making ‘Elevation’ from ‘The Violet Flame’ the winner in the battle of the first singles hands down. Still, judging by the efforts by their contemporaries, ‘Love You To The Sky’ is a charming and well-written song.
The slower paced ‘Still It’s Not Over’ searches the soul with gentle sounding musicality and simple melody, conveying a hopeful message of the continuation of everyday fights, against all odds, even though we were “left (us) to the sheer attack, and still it’s not over”.
Where the quintessential ERASURE sound comes to play, is on ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. This excellently led tune sublimely meanders itself around a plethora of Andy Bell’s vocals. The dreamy lyrics are challenging and endearing, and the whole song is just beautifully executed.
Following on, there ushers the album’s title track, which is equally peaceful and gracefully powerful. Reminiscent of the vintage ballads by Clarke, ‘World Be Gone’ ties together with the band’s history in a seamless manner.
‘A Bitter Parting’ tells the story of a failed relationship over African inspired choirs a la ‘The Kodo Song’ by KID KASIO, elegantly penetrated by marvellous synth and added nostalgia in the lyrical content.
‘Take Me Out Of Myself’ is a gentile plea for being treated with deserved consideration, like a demure version of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’, while ‘Sweet Summer Loving’ introduces a change in tempo with a mid-paced love song.
‘Oh What A World’ superbly escorts a twist in ERASURE’s notion; different sounds, different feels to the vocals and altogether a rather big departure from what we have come to know and love the duo for, but this is where Vince Clarke proves, yet again, that he’s an unparalleled synth magician. It’s possibly the best piece from the Bell / Clarke stable in years.
‘Lousy Sum Of Nothing’ continues the delicate theme, leading to the closing ‘Just A Little Love’. Here is where the lovers of the dancier tracks get their money’s worth. It’s a rather unassuming, yet solid piece to wrap up this wonderfully gracious offering.
As set out, Bell and Clarke bring us more than hope. ‘World Be Gone’ will probably be as commercially successful as its predecessor, and unlikely to follow the fate of the very unloved and misunderstood ‘Tomorrow’s World’.
A few will wonder as to why the production wasn’t delegated out and some will criticise. But every now and then, an easy listening piece is needed to level out the vast material ERASURE have brought us over the years.
Is it their finest? It’s different, more grown-up and maturely executed; still, it will undoubtedly be one of the best things synthpop enthusiasts will hear this year.
‘World Be Gone’ is released by Mute Artists in a variety of formats including CD, vinyl LP, cassette and digital
ERASURE 2017 live dates include Glasgow O2 Academy (27th May), Manchester Albert Hall (28th May), London Roundhouse (29th May)
They also open for ROBBIE WILLIAMS in the UK and Europe throughout July and August, see press for details
Since March 2010, The Electricity Club has built up a big portfolio of live reports featuring gigs by evergreens such as JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, OMD and HEAVEN 17 to modern day exponents of electronic music like EAST INDIA YOUTH, NIGHT CLUB, VILE ELECTRODES and TENEK.
Events both home and abroad such as The Electronic Phuture Revue and the ELECTRI_CITY CONFERENCE have also been reviewed. All of TEC’s live reports have been archived in an easy-to-use page set in reverse chronological order. More inside ›
Combining musical template of THE HUMAN LEAGUE with lyrical wit of PULP, YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s were the shining light in synthpop during an era full of dour landfill indie like TRAVIS following the fallout from Britpop.
Released in March 2000, their only album ‘Soap’ was a cutting tongue-in-cheek satire on class aspirations and dreams. Fronted by a Teddy Boy version of Phil Oakey in Joe Northern aka Ashley Reaks, YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s were a terrifically entertaining live act.
Backed by his very own Joanne and Susanne in Andie and Liz who were recruited from the Academy of Contemporary Music, there was a bizarre twist with instrumentalist Jimmy Dickinson formally being a member of heavy rockers LITTLE ANGELS!
17 years on, The Electricity Club managed to trace Ashley Reaks somewhere in the city of London; he kindly chatted about the period when he “was nearly a crap pop star…”
Despite time passing, the concept of YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s still seems quite bizarre, how did it formulate? A strange story of course!
Strange indeed! Me and Jim played together in post-LITTLE ANGELS band B.L.O.W. and when that finished, we tried writing together. He was writing music for computer games under the name YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s and was into THE PRODIGY. I was writing punk and post-punk type songs so initially we were a sort of punky dance act.
We did a cover of ‘A Forest’ by THE CURE and we wrote our own song around it ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’, which kick-started a whole new direction.
Why did Jimmy want to do synthpop of all a sudden?
At some point Jim played me some demos he’d done pre-LITTLE ANGELS and they were synthpop-esque, so it was always waiting to come out.
Who were the key influences on YOUNGER YOUNGER 28s?
Well obviously THE HUMAN LEAGUE were the template. I remember asking Jim to make ‘Teenage Mum’ sound like THE COMMUNARDS or ERASURE when I brought the song to him. Stock Aitken and Waterman and Trevor Horn were in there somewhere! As a teen, I liked the bleak Northern bands like CLOCK DVA and CABARET VOLTAIRE as well as the miserable lyricists of punk.
Was having two female vocalists alongside your comedic Northern droll always part of the plan?
No – neither me nor Jim were singers so we needed all the help we could get. Liz and Andie sang on the early demos of ‘Julie’ and ‘Teenage Mum’ and it worked well, so they stayed!
When did you realise the concept of YY28s might actually have legs?
When we started gigging… very quickly we had celebrities and music business people at our gigs. I think they liked the comedy of the live act after all the seriousness of Britpop.
You got signed to Richard Branson’s new label V2 and had STEREOPHONICS as label mates, what was it like being on the label?
Personally I think it was a bad choice and I’m not sure V2 really wanted us on the label (though they did want our manager to sort out some problems they were having at the time). We’d have been better going with one of the smaller labels that were interested in us at the time
The first single ‘We’re Going Out’ attracted some attention and radio play…
Putting ‘We’re Going Out’ out as the first single was a bad move in hindsight. The band all wanted ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’ to be the single, but V2 and the industry were convinced ‘We’re Going Out’ would be a huge hit. It wasn’t!
‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’ was a brilliant album opener, sort of PULP FICTION meets THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Sound Of The Crowd’?
Musically I definitely remember referencing ‘Sound Of The Crowd’ and ‘A Forest’ by THE CURE on ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’. It was probably the first track we did and we should have continued down that musical path a bit more but got seduced by POP!
‘The Next Big Thing’ was a wry observation of reality TV talent shows and wannabe culture a few years before Pop Idol / X-Factor etc?
The idea that being famous, in itself, will somehow make us feel good and paper over all the cracks is such a seductive belief and has almost become the new drug of choice. Personally, I was always interested in the life that was falling to bits alongside the illusion, including my own.
Was ‘Gary’ based on a true story?
Let me have a listen and I’ll get back… ‘Gary’ was another figment of my imagination but based loosely on some of the characters I’d come across whilst playing the Northern Working Men’s Club scene over the years in various bands. There was one particularly rough club in Wigan where the DJ was a ‘butch-as-hell’ transvestite and we shared the dressing room with the female strippers, their ‘fanny spray’ and their very protective ‘boyfriends’
There was a dispute with V2 about the ‘In Between Days’ cover being included on the album against your wishes. But how did you come to record it anyway?
‘In Between Days’ was never intended to be on the album as it was a ‘concept’ album and didn’t fit. V2 persuaded us to record a cover as a last ditch attempt at a hit but they dropped us before it ever went out as a single.
I assume they thought that as they’d paid for the recording, they would add it to the album.
In hindsight, it’s a shame the superb B-side ’Karaoke Queen’ wasn’t on the album in place of ‘In Between Days’? Was that another true story or your imaginative mind?
‘Karaoke Queen’ would have fitted well onto ‘Soap’, but for one reason or another didn’t make the cut. Again it was loosely based on an ex-girlfriend of mine who would get ‘hit on’ by both sexes in dodgy clubs whilst I hovered around uncomfortably.
You ended up on open air bill in Nottingham with THE CORRS, E17 and JIMMY NAIL in Summer 1998, playing second from bottom-of-the-bill. It was quite surreal occasion cos I witnessed it, what are your memories of the day and how do you think YY28s went down?
I enjoyed that gig and seem to remember us going down ok though you might tell me otherwise! My main memory was I gave a backstage pass to a guy we’d met on our travels and he proceeded to get very drunk on the free beer and was kicked out for trying to get into THE CORRS dressing room. I denied any knowledge!
Was there a moment when you perhaps realised that things weren’t happening for YY28s and people didn’t get it, that some found the lyrics too condescending?
I remember a meeting at V2 where the marketing team had absolutely no idea what we were about and had been telling the radio shows that we were “a step up from STEPS”!
When ‘We’re Going Out’ didn’t chart, the whole buzz around the band seemed to disappear immediately and it became pretty clear that the label weren’t going to continue to push us.
I didn’t realise how many people thought I was condescending in my lyrics and looking down on the less fortunate. I’d spent years wasting away on the dole in haze of dope smoke in a small town, so I was writing about myself and my life and the desperation I (and my friends) felt on a daily basis.
There was a letter in the Melody Maker or NME one week accusing me of patronising the emotionally damaged in the song ‘Valerie’, where a lonely man seeks refuge in porn and is only capable of a fantasy relationship with one of the models in an ‘adult magazine’. That could easily be me! I think people assume that if you’re in the public eye, you must be happy and emotionally balanced – nothing could be further from the truth, in my case at least!
‘Two Timer (Crap in Bed)’ was issued as a promo but was never officially released and that appeared to be the end of YY28s. What actually happened?
‘Two Timer’ was actually one of the earliest songs we wrote and recorded – an electro re-write of the punk one-hit-wonder ‘Jilted John’. I don’t know why it was never released or on ‘Soap’…
How do you look back on the ‘Soap’ album now and its context in the grander scheme of popular culture?
I haven’t listened to ‘Soap’ in a long time, but I’m glad we made a brave record that was completely out-of-step with everything, which seems to be my forte.
Do you have any favourite songs from the album?
I always liked ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’
So what are you all up to today?
I’m making music and art at a rate of knots… 10 albums in the last 5 years!
Jim is teaching music production at Bath University and works with new artists.
Liz is running her own PA business at www.magicwandpa.com, working with dogs as a trainee trainer and has her first baby on the way.
I don’t know what Andie’s up to…
If you had your time again, is there anything you’d have done differently with YY28s?
Signed to one of the smaller indie labels that were chasing us early on, and released ‘Sugar Sweet Dreams’ as the first single.
Cheers for this Ashley 🙂
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Ashley Reaks
‘Soap’ was released on CD by V2 and can be occasionally found for sale on eBay
The switch to digital technology in the production of synthesizers caused a seismic shift not just in the way that music was produced, but also how analogue devices were perceived.
The advent of pioneering products such as the Yamaha DX7 was the catalyst which caused many musicians to throw out/sell their old Moogs and Korgs with the viewpoint that these new devices could do everything sonically that they could plus more besides.
The newly pioneered Frequency Modulation and Phase Distortion forms of synthesis meant that harmonically complex sounds such as bells and pianos could now be simulated and the warm, analogue sounds of synths such as the Roland Jupiter range began to sound immediately dated in comparison.
The trend was continued when both Korg and Roland introduced their PCM/sample-based M1 and D50 synths which added in new layers of complexity in sound creation which again would have been impossible to create using a voltage controlled oscillator-based device.
One only has to listen retrospectively to songs like ‘Human’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE or albums such as ‘Provision’ by SCRITTI POLITTI to hear how the sawtooth-based electronic sounds of the past had almost overnight become replaced by shiny bell-like tones and THAT omnipresent rubbery ‘Lately’ DX bass sound.
However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and many producers/musicians were left with major egg on their faces when it eventually became apparent that digital synths weren’t the be all and end all, lacking the warmth and ease of programmability that their earlier analogue counterparts were able to provide. Tales of vintage synths being sold for relative peanuts are now legendary and most keyboard players who experienced this era will have an appropriate sob story to tell relating to this!
The next wave of technology to have a significant impact was the birth of the digital sampler – now musicians were able to grab any sound and trigger it from a keyboard and again this had a huge effect on the sound of music production.
Ironically in 2016, everything has now come full circle; manufacturers are now frantically reissuing remakes of earlier analogue and digital products, while with the birth of the virtual synthesizer, packages such as the Arturia Collection V offer up software versions of the Prophet 5, Oberheim SEM and Minimoog at an affordable price.
The choice of digital synthesizers here is a fairly personal one and it isn’t intended to endorse a particular product. Some of the chosen synthesizers weren’t necessarily the highest specified ones either, but were adopted because a producer/musician managed to use it in such a way that belied their lower price point. The synths chosen are also from the first wave of digital synths and as such doesn’t include any of the current wave of digital-based products.
FAIRLIGHT CMI (1979)
The Rolls Royce of samplers and a fully integrated workstation that included a digital synth, sequencer and rhythm programmer, the Australian Fairlight CMI and its 28mb of memory (!) indelibly left its mark on music production. Costing as much as a decent sized house, the CMI helped transform the sound of artists such as JEAN-MICHEL JARRE who used it extensively on ‘Magnetic Fields’ and ‘Zoolook’. Its omnipresent ‘Orchestra 5’ “Whooomph!” patch was used and abused by everybody from PET SHOP BOYS, KLAUS SCHULZE and KATE BUSH to U2 and prog rockers YES…
Iconic example of use: PET SHOP BOYS ‘It’s A Sin’
NED SYNCLAVIER (1979)
The Synclavier was an all singing, all dancing sampling mega-workstation that was favoured by DEPECHE MODE, MICHAEL JACKSON and THE CURE. The cost of some of the versions of the Synclavier made the Fairlight seem affordable in comparison, with a top-spec system going for the outrageous price of $200,000 dollars! Like the CMI, the Synclavier was way ahead of its time and brought a higher quality of sampling and sequencing into a few privileged high end studios.
Iconic example of use: SOFT CELL ‘Tainted Love’
CON BRIO ADS200 (1980)
With only two units being produced, once seen, the Con Brio ADS200 can never be forgotten. Looking like something out of ‘Space 1999’, with a built-in display monitor and clad wall-to-wall in veneer, the ADS200 is probably the nearest the synth world came to an outlandish concept car; it looked incredible, but ultimately was doomed to remain a pipe dream. One belonged to BECK’s father David Campbell who reportedly paid £17,000 for it. The ADS200’s implementation of FM synthesis raised a few legal eyebrows at Yamaha although no action was taken.
Iconic example of use: Fittingly the Con Brio ADS100 got used for sound effects on the movie reboot of ‘Star Trek’
PPG WAVE 2 (1981)
The striking and very blue-looking PPG (Palm Products GmbH) Wave 2 synth became another popular digital synth. Its bell-like quality can be heard on DEPECHE MODE’s ‘A Broken Frame’. TANGERINE DREAM also toured with one extensively after assisting the company with the development many of their other products. Martin Gore had a Casio MT30 sat on his PPG Wave 2 with a ‘Fairlite’ name stuck on the back in what could be seen as a side swipe at Vince Clarke who had ploughed a large percentage of his royalties into a Fairlight purchase.
Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘The Sun & The Rainfall’
YAMAHA GS1 (1981)
Despite its 19th Century appearance and looking for all intents and purposes like a grand piano, the GS1 was the first keyboard produced by Yamaha to feature the patented Frequency Modulation (FM) technology. Like the Fairlight, the GS1’s prohibitive price tag of $25,000 meant that it was out of reach for most musicians. The size and weight of the machine at nearly 90kg meant that it was never intended to be a touring machine; only a 100 units were manufactured too, but it still deserves its place in synthesizer history for kick-starting the FM revolution.
Iconic example of use: TOTO ‘Africa’
DIGITAL KEYBOARDS SYNERGY (1982)
The Synergy used additive synthesis to generate its sounds and its 74 note keyboard made it attractive to more proficient keyboard players like WENDY CARLOS who used the Synergy on ‘Digital Moonscapes’ and ‘Beauty In The Beast’. It was unusual in that it allowed the layering of four sounds and also possessed a four track in-built sequencer which was useful, but unfortunately lost its memory once the machine was powered down. Sadly, the advent of the DX7 signalled the death knell for the Synergy, costing three times less and being fully programmable…
Iconic example of use: WENDY CARLOS ‘Tron’ soundtrack
YAMAHA DX7 (1983)
Taking the technology first used in the GS1, the DX7 brought FM Synthesis to the masses and along the way transformed the sound of the charts between 1983-1989. The DX’s distinctive rubbery bass sound started to appear everywhere from A-HA’s ‘Take On Me’, HOWARD JONES’ ‘What is Love?’ through to LEVEL 42’s ‘Hot Water’. But unless you were a musical brainiac like BRIAN ENO, the DX7 was notoriously difficult to program and legend has it that most units which were returned back to Yamaha for any maintenance still had their preset sound banks left untouched!
Iconic example of use: BERLIN ‘Take My Breath Away’
YAMAHA DX1 (1983)
The DX1 could be considered as a connoisseur version of the DX7, every part of it is THAT more expensive looking from its fully weighted keyboard, deeper control panel through to its wooden end cheeks. The sound of the DX1 was much thicker than the often thin sounding DX7 because the user was able to layer two sounds together. If however you intend buying one of these, the secondary market is extremely limited as only 140 models were produced. Users included PET SHOP BOYS and DIRE STRAITS.
Iconic example of use: DIRE STRAITS ‘Money for Nothing’
CASIO CZ101 (1984)
The CASIO CZ101 and YAMAHA DX100 were almost like distantly related cousins; both had mini keys, utilised digital sound generating techniques and had guitar strap pegs which allowed them to be played in a keytar style. The 101 was adopted by Vince Clarke and was used extensively on the debut ERASURE album ‘Wonderland’. Despite being digital, the CZ range was still capable of some pretty rich analogue style sounds and patches like the Organ preset soon found themselves appearing on many a house/dance track in the late 80s.
Iconic examples of use: BLANCMANGE ‘Believe You Me’ album
EMU EMULATOR II (1984)
Much beloved of DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, the follow-up to the original Emulator was an 8 bit machine that had analogue filters. In contrast to the rack-mounted Akai range, the keyboard-based Emulator became a much more popular live machine, with sample storage being held on 5.5 inch floppy disks. The addition of MIDI compatibility, in-built sequencer and separate audio outputs made it a highly sought after sampler. PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant played one in the infamous Old Grey Whistle Test performance where he fluffs the string part in ‘Opportunities’.
Iconic example of use: DEPECHE MODE ‘Christmas Island’
ENSONIQ MIRAGE (1984)
The Mirage was a good value for money sampler/synthesizer, although the specifications these days look laughable with 8 bit, 333 note sequencing memory and 128kb of RAM. It featured analogue filters, a velocity sensitive keyboard and 8 note polyphony. Even now, players swear by the warmth that the filter can give to a sample, but the inscrutable programming method it utilised via hexadecimal-code manipulation meant that editing samples was only for the faint-hearted! Users included SKINNY PUPPY and JANET JACKSON on the ‘Control’ album.
Iconic example of use: SKINNY PUPPY ‘Jackhammer’
KORG DW8000 (1985)
The heart of the KORG DW8000’s sound was digitally generated from its DWGS (Digital Waveform Generator System). The DW8000 was a bit of a hybrid, half-way between a DX7 and an analogue synthesizer in that its waveforms were digital and its filter analogue. The synth gained a lot of fans because of its in-built arpeggiator and FX and although not as successful as the M1, it was still used by artists such as DEPECHE MODE and KEITH EMERSON.
Iconic example of use: EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL ‘Love Blind’
YAMAHA DX100 (1985)
The DX100 along with the FB01 sound module were the entry level points for those wishing to explore FM synthesis. Whilst not possessing the same amount of operators as its bigger DX brothers, the DX100 became popular with Detroit Techno producers like Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins because of its distinctive bass sound. If you also check out an equipment list from the ‘Electric Café’ era of KRAFTWERK, you will see that one surprisingly also found its way into the German electronic maestros synth armoury too.
Iconic example of use: RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM ‘Nude Photo’
SEQUENTIAL CIRCUITS PROPHET VS (1986)
After their success with the Prophet 5, Prophet 10 and Pro One, the Prophet VS was a departure for Sequential Circuits and featured an innovative joystick which allowed the user to mix/program sounds. The VS was used on the soundtrack to ‘Tron’ and John Carpenter’s ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ with synthesist Alan Howarth using some of the synth’s more ‘eastern’ sounding presets to evoke the atmosphere needed for the film. This was another favourite synth for Vince Clarke and featured extensively on both ‘The Circus’ and ‘The Innocents’ albums.
Iconic example of use: ERASURE ‘It Doesn’t Have to Be’
BUCHLA 700 (1987)
Although generally known as Robert Moog’s competitor in the analogue modular synth stakes, Don Buchla actually produced a digital synth in the shape of the 700. Used by Alessandro Cortini of NINE INCH NAILS fame, it used a mixture of synthesis techniques (FM/Wavetable/Subtractive/Additive) and in true esoteric Buchla fashion, let the user create their own tunings with as many or as little notes per octave as wanted. Only six were made, but BENGE went on to create a mini-album using the 700 called ‘Chimeror’ produced as a result an hour’s improvisation with the machine.
Iconic example of use: BENGE ‘Chimeror’
ROLAND D50 (1987)
Utilising a combination of Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and Linear Arithmetic (LA) synthesis, the D50 was another omnipresent synth. Its many famous users included ENYA, VANGELIS, JEAN-MICHEL JARRE and Nick Rhodes from DURAN DURAN. For some reason there was a bitter rivalry between M1 and D50 owners as to who had the ‘best’ synth, and to this day, debates still rage on in synth forums! Arguments aside, the D50 was certainly one of the ‘big three’ digital synths that transformed the sound libraries of most synth players in the period.
Iconic example of use: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE ‘Computer Weekend’
AKAI S1000 (1988)
Despite being a royal pain in the ar*e to program due to its small LED screen, the S1000 was THE digital sampler which found its way into the equipment list of every decent studio of the period. Bringing sampling to the masses it also featured a timestretch function which let samples be warped and became the de rigueur vocal effect on tracks such as JOSH WINK’s seminal acid track ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ and DOUBLE 99’s Speed Garage anthem ‘Ripgroove’.
Iconic example of use: PORTISHEAD ‘Dummy’ album
KORG M1 (1988)
Alongside the D50 and the DX7, the M1 was THE synth that was most likely to appear on ‘Top Of The Pops’ when a band featured a keyboard player. With a range of sounds from arguably the first decent ‘real’ piano sound through to some complex/atmospheric patches, the M1 was adopted by everybody from house producers using the organ bass like on ‘Show Me Love’ by ROBIN S through to your typical functions band of the day. OMD’s 1991 ‘Sugar Tax’ album is almost entirely Korg M1!
Iconic example of use: GARY NUMAN ‘Sacrifice’ album
ROLAND W30 (1989)
The W30 deserves its place in TEC’s list if only for the way that Liam Howlett from THE PRODIGY was so devoted to it for nigh on 20 years. Despite being Roland’s 1st workstation synthesizer and featuring sampling technology, Howlett used the W30 primarily as a sequencer to drive sounds/loops from his Akai Sampler and would go onto use up until 2008. Howlett’s live use of the W30 was so extensive that he reportedly bought up all of the remaining keys from Roland Japan as he used to break them every other show…
Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Everybody In The Place’
ROLAND JD800 (1991)
The JD800 signalled a return to the analogue-style design philosophy of its older machines with plenty of real-time control and sliders, but at the time wasn’t a terribly successful selling machine. The machine featured a keyboard with aftertouch which allowed extra control of its sounds, but if you manage to find a JD800 on the s/h market now, this was one of the things to fail on the machine as the glue used had a habit of melting. Famous users of the JD800 include: FAITHLESS, UNDERWORLD and DEPECHE MODE.
Iconic example of use: JEAN-MICHEL JARRE ‘Chronologie 4’
WALDORF WAVE (1993)
Although a digital synth (it was Wavetable based), the Wave had analogue filters which helped give it its warmth. Its users included HANS ZIMMER, LEFTFIELD, ANTHONY ROTHER, KLAUS SCHULZE and ULRICH SCHNAUSS who still has an orange model – it was also unusual in being expandable from 16 voices up to 48 voices. With only roughly 200 sold, the Wave pretty much put Waldorf out of business with the company actually losing money on each unit shipped. Due to its scarcity, the Wave is highly collectable with a price tag close to $10,000 for one.
Iconic example of use: BJÖRK ‘Violently Happy (Live Version)’
CLAVIA NORD LEAD (1994)
The original Clavia Nord Lead helped coin the term “virtual analog synthesis”. It was followed by a series of other machines all in a distinctive red livery and was adopted by many artists including NINE INCH NAILS, UNDERWORLD and FLUKE. The addition of several real-time controls plus the ability to mimic several retro analogue synths meant that the Lead became an extremely popular synth with a range that still endures today.
Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Funky Sh*t’
KORG PROPHECY (1995)
The Prophecy was unusual in that it was a monophonic synth that used virtual modelling to emulate everything from blown and plucked sounds, through to thicker, more analogue textures. Probably most famous for providing one of the lead sounds on THE PRODIGY’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, the Prophecy was also blessed with aftertouch and ribbon control on what was often affectionately referred to as a ‘sausage roll’ on the left hand edge of the synthesizer.
Iconic example of use: THE PRODIGY ‘Smack My Bitch Up’
KURZWEIL K2500 (1996)
The K2500 in its keyboard and rack version was popular as a workstation synth, featuring a synth engine, sequencer and sampling with the additional ability to load in Akai samples. It found favour as live machine for several years with PINK FLOYD and in the studio with NINE INCH NAILS. The rack version wasn’t the most user friendly machine to use due its over-reliance on its editing screen, but the machine had a lush warm sound to them and many users continue to swear by them.
Iconic example of use: PLASTIKMAN ‘Plasticine’
WALDORF MICROWAVE XT (1998)
With the rise of melodic trance, synths like the brightly coloured (or some might say ‘lairy’) Microwave XT from the Waldorf range help artists such as FERRY CORSTEN re-introduce some welcome digital-based analogue sounds back into the musical marketplace. The Microwave XT, although a baby brother to the HUGE Wave synth, was still an extremely fat sounding synth and coloured its most prominent control (the filter cut-off) in a fetching shade of red to differentiate it from the other controls on its orange front panel. NINE INCH NAILS also count amongst one its famous users.
Iconic example of use: THE ART OF NOISE ‘The Seduction of Claude Debussy’ album