With their 2019 album ‘Saved Symmetry’ capturing an understated depth and musicality that made it very much a grower with its mix of emotions and colours, FIAT LUX have surprised with their new single ‘(How Will We Ever) Work This Way’.
A very direct new wave disco number with a prominent funk-laden bass, ‘(How Will We Ever) Work This Way’ had almost been completely recorded at David P Crickmore’s Splid Studios during their now stalled sessions for the follow-up to ‘Saved Symmetry’.
Steve Wright had managed to lay down his voice before the lockdown came into action. However, saxophonist Will Howard made his slinky contribution remotely which Crickmore said “came c/o his back bedroom with mic under the sheets.”
The lockdown has inspired many acts to get creative with solutions for producing promotional videos and FIAT LUX have been no different. In their case, they have filmed their parts in isolation while in complete darkness, save what appears to be an LED rotating disco ball for lighting effects. As well as featuring Wright, Crickmore and Howard, a Roland Jupiter 8 and Minimoog make cameo appearances.
“It’s a toe tapper” said Wright about the more uptempo nature of ‘(How Will We Ever) Work This Way’, “My daughter says it’s wiggle bop!”; but despite the spacey dance feel and an uplifting middle eight, the lyrics point to something much darker, highlighting that what was considered normal in the past is no longer acceptable.
FIAT LUX have been particularly enjoying their renaissance following their tentative return in 2017, with their triumphant comeback concert at Bradford’s St Clements C of E Church in Autumn 2019 as well as more recently, opening for CHINA CRISIS at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.
While things are very much up in the air as with everyone, a new album and more gigs are planned.
To narrow down ten years of electronic pop to 30 songs was always going to be a challenging task, but The Electricity Club has given it a go to offer its own subjective twist.
As the decade started, female artists like LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX and LADYHAWKE had appeared to have been making in-roads into the mainstream as new flag bearers for the synthesizer.
But it proved to be something of a false dawn and while those artists continue today, the music that has made the most lasting impact between 2010-2019 has been made by evergreens from Synth Britannia whose talent has not subsided or independently minded musicians who focussed on art over commerce but didn’t forget to throw in a tune along the way.
As per usual, The Electricity Club’s lists are all about rules. So this one has not only been restricted to one song per artist moniker but also to one vocalist. Hence SIN COS TAN just get the nod over VILLA NAH, while MIRRORS take preference over James New’s guest slot for FOTONOVELA on ‘Our Sorrow’ and the Midge Ure vocalled ‘Glorious’ has been chosen instead ULTRAVOX’s ‘Live’.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF THE DECADE 2010-2019…
With alternative songstress NYXX on additional vocals, ‘Rhythm + Control’ saw Daniel Graves take his industrial pop to the next level. The magnificent Electro Mix successfully realised an oddball blend of Darren Hayes, Britney Spears and Marilyn Manson. With a mightily elastic bassline, when asked whether The Electricity Club had gone crazy coming up with the comparison, Daniel Graves replied “God no. Spot on, guys!” adding “The goal was to cram as many features into one song and have fun with it as possible.”
‘Synth Is Not Dead’ is a song close to the heart of The Electricity Club with its solidarity to the synth. A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider, Johan Baeckstrom said: “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
‘Without A Trace Of Emotion’ saw Karl Bartos conversing with his showroom dummy Herr Karl and confronting his demons as an ex-member of the world’s most iconic electronic group. But whereas his former colleague Wolfgang Flür vented his spleen in book form with ‘I Was A Robot’, Bartos took a more ironic musical approach with the line “I wish I could remix my life to another beat” summing up a wry reference to ‘The Mix’ project which drove him out of Kling Klang!
BEYOND THE WIZARD’S SLEEVE featuring HANNAH PEEL Diagram Girl (2016)
BEYOND THE WIZARDS SLEEVE’s ‘Diagram Girl’ was the work of Erol Alkan and Richard Norris of THE GRID. Featuring the unisex vocals of Hannah Peel, a deeper pitch shift provided a psychedelic out-of-this-world feel which bizarrely fitted in alongside the songstress’ dreamily breathy tones. “They wanted me to sound like a man!” she remembered. Meanwhile the pulsing electronic soundtrack had surreal echoes of OMD, in particular their lesser known minor hit ‘Secret’.
Muscian, producer and Italians Do It Better head honcho Johnny Jewel, has lways been into all things Lynchian. So when CHROMATICS released the dreamy Badalamenti-inspired ‘Shadow’, it instantly recalled The Black Lodge’s red curtains in that sleepy Washington town. With Ruth Radelet’s wispy vocal and an eerie string machine for the main melodic theme, the ghostly wistful tune later came to further prominence thanks to its inclusion in ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ in 2017.
CHVRCHES stuck to the synthpop template of their 2013 debut and as a result, delivered what LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, and LADYHAWKE and HURTS all failed to do… a decent second album! The propulsive four-to-the-floor action of ‘Clearest Blue’ was wonderfully held in a state of tension before WHACK, there was a dynamic surprise in the final third that recalled the classic overtures of Vince Clarke. The song was electronic pop magnificence embroiled.
RODNEY CROMWELL is the alter-ego of Adam Cresswell, formally of ARTHUR & MARTHA. ‘Black Dog’ recalled the pulsing post-punk miserablism of SECTION 25 and was embellished by some Hooky styled bass. As with NEW ORDER’s ‘Temptation’, despite the inherent melancholy, there was an optimistic light at the end of the tunnel that made ‘Black Dog’ a most joyous listening experience despite its very personal themes of love, loss, depression and redemption.
The ‘All You Need Is Now’ album saw DURAN DURAN cyclically return to the funk-led syncopated pop of their first two classic albums. A superb sequencer assisted disco number with a tingling metallic edge, ‘Being Followed’ hinted at THE CURE’s ‘A Forest’ while Nick Rhodes’ vintage string machine captured the tension of post 9/11 paranoia. Simon Le Bon gave his wayward all and while he has technically never had a great voice, what he delivered was unique AND untouchable…
Despite EAST INDIA YOUTH being no more as a project, the debut long player ‘Total Strife’ pointed towards William Doyle’s potential to pen sublime pop, and with the follow-up ‘Culture Of Volume’, the album’s centrepiece was ‘Carousel’. It imagined OMD’s ‘Stanlow’ reworked during Brian Eno’s sessions for ‘Apollo: Soundtracks & Atmospheres’. With no percussive elements and over six minutes in length, Doyle gave a dramatic vocal performance resonating in beautifully crystalline melancholy.
‘Glorious’ not only reunited Midge Ure with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure told The Electricity Club: “I liked the music, but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough, so I rewrote all of that in my studio. I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.
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. 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.
Available on the album ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ via Emika Records
John Foxx and Jori Hulkkonen had worked together previously on singular songs like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Never Been Here Before’, but never before on a body of work with a conceptual theme. ‘European Splendour’ took on a grainier downtempo template and the lead track ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
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…” in this gloriously optimistic tune about finding love again in midlife. Their long awaited debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ finally came out in 2019.
As the title suggested, the gorgeous and sophisticated ‘Dreaming’ adopted a distinctly European flavour compared with the mid-Atlantic AOR focus of songs like ‘Rocket’, ‘Alive’ and ‘Believer’ on the ‘Head First’ album. Alison Goldfrapp’s voice resonated angelically with beautiful high-register chorus alongside the with pulsing sequences and string machine washes of Will Gregory’s primarily electronic arrangement complimented by Davide Rossi’s cinematic orchestrations.
The Berlin period of IAMX has maintained a special quality in that Chris Corner captured an electro Gothic aesthetic that combined the theatrics of Weimar Cabaret with themes of sex, alienation and dependency. Despite the lyrical content, Corner’s songs were always strongly melodic with an accessible grandeur. ‘Ghosts Of Utopia’ had instant appeal for a dance in the dark with exhilarating mechanical drive. His scream of ”this is psychosis” was wholly believable!
As IAMAMIWHOAMI, Jonna Lee and Claes Björklund offered icy musical art. ‘Hunting For Pearls’ featured wonderfully pulsing sequences and trancey atmospheres, coupled with beautifully rich vocals. With a mysterious falsetto reach, the air might have been cold outside but inside, things were warm if delightfully odd. If Kate Bush made a modern electronic dance record at ABBA’s Polar Studios, it would probably have sounded like this. Jonna Lee continues the artistic adventure now as IONNALEE.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via towhomitmayconcern
Sweden’s KITE are probably the best synth act in Europe right now. Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg’s wonderfully exuberant array of sounds and rugged majestic vocals certainly deserve a much larger audience. Issuing only EPs and never albums, the magnificent progressive electronic epic ‘Up For Life’ was a two-part nine minute masterpiece, the passionate and sublime first half mutated into a beautifully surreal journey of VANGELIS-like proportions for its second.
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 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.
The beautiful ‘Ambulances’ was totally different to anything LADYTRON had done before, almost in te vein of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. Moving at a much slower pace, Helen Marnie’s voice adopted an unexpected angelic falsetto over the lush spacious mix featuring dramatic strings, synthetic timpani and an almost random hi-hat pattern. Daniel Hunt said he “wanted it to sound ethereal and otherworldly” and with a glorious crescendo, ‘Ambulances’ was certainly something to be to be savoured.
A worthy of re-assessment of DEPECHE MODE ‘A Broken Frame’ was long overdue and MARSHEAUX have certainly gave a number of its songs some interesting arrangements. Their version of ‘Monument’ borrowed its bassline from latter day DM B-side ‘Painkiller’. Combined with the wispily resigned vocals of Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou, it provided a tense soundtrack. It’s not often that cover versions are better than the originals, but this was one of them.
With their smart suits, MIRRORS presented an intense and artful approach to electronic pop that recalled Dindisc era OMD. With a dense synthetic chill and pulsing effects dominating this brilliantly uptempo electro number, ‘Ways To An End’ came over like TALKING HEADS ‘Crossed Eyed & Painless’ given a claustrophobic post-punk makeover. Sadly, MIRRORS were to only make the one album ‘Lights & Offerings’ which although under-appreciated on release, is now acknowledged as a classic of the decade.
Having worked successfully in 2013 with Guy Sigsworth on ‘the minutes’, which saw Alison Moyet return to the synthesized music forms to compliment her powerful and self-assured voice, the follow-up ‘Other’ was a natural progression. The startling orchestrated electro-dub drama of ‘Alive’ gave Moyet’s two former classmates in DEPECHE MODE a stark lesson in how to actually fully realise electronic blues. Indeed, it was ‘In Chains’, the lame opener from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ gone right…
After the guitar dominated proceedings of the last few NEW ORDER albums, Bernard Sumner promised a return to electronic music for the Mancunians’ first album of new material without estranged founder member and bassist Peter Hook. That was certainly delivered on with ‘Plastic’, a full-on throbbing seven minute electro number mixed by Richard X with blippy echoes of ‘Mr Disco’. Dealing with the issue of superficiality, it declared “this love is poison, but it’s like gold”… beware of anything plastic and artificial!
With a lot less goth metal guitar and much more prominent use of synths, the ‘Savage’ album successfully outstripped ‘Splinter’. And it was the haunting ‘And It All Began With You’ that stopped all in its tracks, with an exposed and soulful vocal. Borrowing Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ for its chorus, the subtle orchestrations and a gentle shuffling beat coupled to a steadily discordant electric piano riff to close, it beautifully brought out the best in classic Gary Numan while maintaining forward momentum.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage in ‘Electricity’ and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synths and a spirited vocal delivery attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes, using beautiful melodies to tell terrible things…
SIN COS TAN was the new mathematically charged project of producer Jori Hulkkonen and VILLA NAH vocalist Juho Paalosmaa. “A synthesized duo of great promise, broken dreams, and long nights”, they have certainly delivered with ‘Trust’, all draped in melancholy with emotive vocals haunted by the ghost of Billy Mackenzie. With driving hypnotic, layered strings, sampled cimbalom and Cold War dramatics, this was as Jori Hulkkonen put it: “Disco You Can Cry To”…
Chinese six-piece STOLEN are reckoned by Berlin-based producer Mark Reeder to be the most exciting band since NEW ORDER and they closed the decade opening for them on tour in Europe. Certainly their debut album ‘Fragment’ was impressive with ‘Turn Black’ being one of its 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.”
The Nordic vocalist of the decade has to be Susanne Sundfør who worked with M83, KLEERUP and RÖYKSOPP as she built her international profile as a solo artist. Propelled by a pulsing electronic backbone, ‘Fade Away’ from Sundfør’s breakthrough album ‘Ten Love Songs’ caught her in rousing form with a tune that came over like Scandinavian gospel. Meanwhile, a fabulous polyphonic synth solo inspired by QUEEN’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ added another dimension.
First appearing online as a video exclusive in 2010, ‘Deep Red’ was inspired by Dario Argento’s ‘Profondo Rosso’. A gorgeous seven and a half minute funeral ballad that came over like CLIENT fronting classic OMD, this was tremendously dramatic stuff from Anais Neon and Martin Swan. It caught the ear of a certain Andy McCluskey who was perusing The Electricity Club and later invited VILE ELECTRODES to open for OMD in Germany during their 2013 ‘English Electric’ tour.
Techno DJ WESTBAM celebrated 30 years in music with an intriguing mature collection of songs under the title of ‘Götterstrasse’. While the theme of the album centred on the joy and euphoria of underground nightlife, he said ‘You Need The Drugs’ was “the first explicit electronic appeal AGAINST the use of drugs with a clear message: drugs are a bore!”. Voiced brilliantly by Richard Butler of THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS’, it featured prominently in Mark Reeder’s film ‘B Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979–1989’.
2019 was a year of 40th Anniversaries, celebrating the synth becoming the sound of pop when ‘Are Friends Electric?’ reached No1 in the UK chart in 1979.
While GARY NUMAN opted for ‘(R)evolution’ and two of his former sidemen RRussell Bell and Chris Payne ventured solo for the first time, OMD offered a 7 disc ‘Souvenir’ featuring a whole album of quality unreleased material to accompany a concert tour to celebrate four decades in the business.
That was contrary to DEPECHE MODE who merely plonked 14 albums into a boxed set in a move where the ‘Everything Counts’ lyric “the grabbing hands grab all they can” became more and more ironic…
MIDGE URE partied like it was 1980 with the music of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX, while SIMPLE MINDS announced an arena tour for 2020 so that their audience could show Jim Kerr their hands again. HEAVEN 17 announced some special showcases of the early material of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and got a particularly warm reception opening on tour for SQUEEZE as a trailer ahead of their own ‘Greatest Hits’ jaunt next year.
Celebrating 20 years in music, there was the welcome return of LADYTRON with a self-titled comeback album, while Swedish evergreens LUSTANS LAKEJER performed the ‘Åkersberga’ album for its 20th Anniversary and similarly GOLDFRAPP announced a series of shows in honour of their magnificent cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’.
Cult favourites FIAT LUX made their intimate live comeback in a church in Bradford and released their debut album ‘Saved Symmetry’ 37 years after their first single ‘Feels Like Winter Again’.
As a result, their fans were also treated to ‘Ark Of Embers’, the long player that Polydor Records shelved in 1985 when the band were on the cusp of a breakthrough but ended with a commercial breakdown.
Modern prog exponents Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson got back together as NO-MAN for their dual suite electronic concept record ‘Love You To Bits’, but an even more ambitious undertaking came from UNDERWORLD with their boxed set ‘Drift Series 1’.
After a short hiatus, the mighty KITE sold-out three gigs at Stockholm Slaktkyrkan and ended the year performing at an opera house, while GIORGIO MORODER embarked on his first ever concert tour where his songs were the stars.
Despite the fall of The Berlin Wall 30 years ago, there were more evident swipes to the right than there had been for a long time, with the concept of Brexit Electro becoming a rather unpleasant reality. So in these more sinister times, the need for classic uplifting electronic pop was higher than ever.
To that end, three superb debut albums fitted the bill. While KNIGHT$ offered quality Britalo on ‘Dollars & Cents’, the suave presence of OLLIE WRIDE took a more MTV friendly direction with ‘Thanks In Advance’.
But for those wanting something more home produced, the eccentric Northern electronic pop of the brilliantly named INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP continued the artistic lineage of THE HUMAN LEAGUE.
QUIETER THAN SPIDERS finally released their wonderful debut album ‘Signs Of Life’ which was naturally more understated and Denmark had some worthy synthpop representation with SOFTWAVE producing an enjoyably catchy debut long player in ‘Game On’.
On the shadier side of electronic pop, BOY HARSHER achieved a wider breakthrough with their impressive ‘Careful’ long player but as a result, the duo acquired a contemporary hipster element to their fanbase who seemed to lack manners and self-awareness as they romped around gigs without a care for anyone around them. But with tongues-in-cheeks, SPRAY continued to amuse with their witty prankelectro on ‘Failure Is Inevitable’.
Photo by Johnny Jewel
Italians Do It Better kept things in house as CHROMATICS unexpectedly unleashed their first album for six years in ‘Closer To Grey’ and embarked on a world tour.
Main support was DESIRE and accompanied on keyboards by HEAVEN singer Aja, the pair took things literally during their cover version of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ with a girl-on-girl kiss in front of head honcho Johnny Jewel.
Other ITIB acts on the tour dependent on territory included DOUBLE MIXTE, IN MIRRORS and KRAKÓW LOVES ADANA. But the best work to appear from the stable came from JORJA CHALMERS who became ‘Human Again’.
Touring in Europe with OMD and MIDGE URE, TINY MAGNETIC PETS unleashed two EPs ‘The Politburo Disko’ and ‘Girl In A White Dress’ as fellow Dubliner CIRCUIT3 got political and discussed ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’.
The King of Glum Rock LLOYD COLE surprised all with an electronic pop album called ‘Guesswork’ just as PET SHOP BOYS set an ‘Agenda’. HOWARD JONES released his most synthy work for years in ‘Transform’ and while CHINA CRISIS acted as his well-received support on the UK leg of his 35th Anniversary tour, their front man GARY DALY ventured solo with ‘Gone From Here’.
Sweden continued to produce quality electronic pop with enjoyable releases from the likes of MACHINISTA, PAGE, COVENANT, OBSESSION OF TIME and LIZETTE LIZETTE. One of the most interesting acts to emerge from the region was US featuring the now Stockholm-domiciled Andrew Montgomery from GENEVA and Leo Josefsson of LOWE, with the catalyst of this unlikely union coming from a shared love of the late country legend Glen Campbell. Meanwhile, veteran trio DAYBEHAVIOR made the best album of their career ‘Based On A True Story’.
However, Canada again gave the Swedes a good run for their money as ELECTRIC YOUTH and FM ATTACK released new material while with more of a post-punk slant, ACTORS impressed audiences who preferred a post-post-punk edge alongside their synths. DANA JEAN PHOENIX though showed herself to be one of the best solo synth performers on the live circuit, but artistically the best of the lot was MECHA MAIKO who had two major releases ‘Okiya’ and ‘Let’s!’.
Despite making some good music in 2019 with their ‘Destroyer’ two-parter, the “too cool for school” demeanour of TR/ST might have impressed hipsters, but left a lot to be desired. A diva-ish attitude of entitlement was also noticed by The Electricity Club to be disappointingly prevalent in several fledgling acts.
However, several of the sub-genre’s artists needed to rethink their live presentations which notably underwhelmed with their static motions and lack of engagement.
While promoters such as Outland developed on their solid foundations, others attempted to get too big too soon like the musical equivalent of a penis extension, leaving fans disappointed and artists unpaid. Attempting to turnover more than 10 acts during in a day with a quarter of an hour changeover has always been an odious task at best, but to try 15?!? One hopes the headliners were well paid despite having to go on at midnight when most of their supporters went home so as not to miss the last train…
Now at times, it was as if a major collective midlife crisis had hit independent electronic music in the UK during 2019.
It was not unlike how “born again bikers” have become a major road safety risk, thanks to 40somethings who only managed Cycling Proficiency in Junior School suddenly jumping onto 500cc Honda CMX500 Rebel motorcycles, thinking they were Valentino Rossi.
Something similar was occurring in music as a variety of posturing delusional synth owners indulged in a remix frenzy and visions of grandeur like it was normal behaviour, forgetting that ability and talent were paramount.
This attitude led to a number of poorly attended events where attendees were able to be counted on one hand, thanks to clueless fans of said combos unwisely panning their video footage around the venue.
Playing at 3:15pm in an empty venue is NOT performing at a ‘major’ electronic festival… “I’ll be more selective with the gigs I agree to in the UK” one of these acts haplessly bemoaned, “I’ve played to too many empty rooms!” – well, could that have been because they are not very good?
Bands who had blown their chance by not showing willingness to open for name acts during holiday periods, while making unwise comments on their national TV debut about their lack of interest in registering for PRS, said they were going to split a year in advance, but not before releasing an EP and playing a farewell show in an attempt to finally get validation for their art. Was this a shining example of Schrodinger’s Band?
Of course, the worst culprits were those who had an internet radio show or put on gigs themselves so that they could actually perform, because otherwise external promotors were only interested in them opening at 6.15pm after a ticket deal buy on for a five band bill. Humility wouldn’t have gone amiss in all these cases.
It’s a funny old world, but as The Electricity Club comes up to concluding its tenth year as an influential platform that has written extensively about not one or two or three or four BUT five acts prior to them being selected to open on tour for OMD, luckily the gulf between good and bad music is more distinct than ever.
Artwork by Heloisa Flores
The Electricity Club had a compilation released by Amour Records gathering some of the best music from the last 10 years and reached No2 in the German POPoNAUT charts.
It will be interesting to see if the high standard of electronic pop will be maintained or whether the influx of deluded poor quality artists will contaminate the bloodline.
So The Electricity Club ends the decade with a complimentary comment by a punter after TEC006 who had also been to TEC004: “You don’t put on sh*t do you…”
May the supreme talent rise and shine… you know who you are 😉
2019 was good for new music. The first two thirds of the year was particularly strong for up-and-coming talent, while a number of veterans returned to making music with synths for the first time in many years.
Inevitably, the quality of new releases couldn’t be sustained and things tailed off during the Autumn period as artists shifted their focus towards the live arena.
The launch of debut full-length releases by relative newcomers has tended to focus towards the winter in order to pitch to the deluge of tastemaker polls that are now prevalent both in mainstream and online media.
Of course, The Electricity Club is unable to include everything in its 30 SONGS OF 2019, so worthy mentions go to SHOOK, CIRCUIT 3, KANGA, FRAGILE SELF, NINA, THE HEARING, JAKUZI, TR/ST, SPELLLING, I AM SNOW ANGEL, PET SHOP BOYS, NO-MAN, RIDER, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, FRAGRANCE. and T.O.Y. for their output this year.
As per usual with a restriction of one song per artist moniker and presented in alphabetical order, these are The Electricity Club’s 30 SONGS OF 2019…
APOPTYGMA BERZERK A Battle For The Crown
Over the 25 years since his debut album ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ , Stephan Groth has straddled EBM, synthpop, futurepop, alternative rock and more recently instrumentals with APOPTYGMA BERZERK. For his first new material since 2016’s ‘Exit Popularity Contest’, the upcoming EP ‘Nein Danke!’ sees a return to the synthpop / new wave format. Part of a teaser single, ‘A Battle For The Crown’ offered a suitably matted austere but crucially did not forget the hooks or the melodies.
Stark Massachusetts duo BOY HARSHER formed through an urgent need to produce and consume, so Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller utilised their minimal electronics and intense mindset to create a compelling narrative of deterioration. ‘LA’ featured a wonderfully incongruous mix of icy string synths and orchestra stabs for an enticing display of mutant electronic disco, all brilliantly sinister thanks to its varied use of effects and Matthews’ mournful demeanour.
Available on the album ‘Careful’ via Nude Club Records
Jorja Chalmers is the sax and keys player for Bryan Ferry but while it was recorded in her boss’ studio, her first solo album ‘Human Again’ exuded a more sombre filmic disposition. Conceived and sketched in hotel rooms during the come down from playing to packed theatres around the world. ‘She Made Him Love Again’ was a song where Chalmers’ breathy vocals possessed a gorgeous forlorn allure and when the icy string machine and deep sax joined in, proceedings lifted to another level.
Available on the album ‘Human Again’ via Italians Do It Better
Lloyd Cole had recorded an experimental electronic album ‘Selected Studies Vol 1’ with Hans-Joachim Roedelius of CLUSTER in 2013, while there was also a solo instrumental collection entitled ‘1D Electronics 2012-2014’. But he put all of that modular knowhow into a song based format with the charming synthy single ‘Violins’ which saw him turn into OMD! However the King of Glum Rock didn’t totally alienate his main fan base, with guitars making their presence felt in amongst all the machinery at the halfway point.
CHINA CRISIS have been an unlikely influence on acts such as VILLA NAH and MIRRORS, but while these days their synthwork is less pronounced, front man and keyboardist Gary Daly took the plunge with a full length solo record entitled ‘Gone From Here’. The wonderful first single ‘I Work Alone’ acted as both a statement of intent and an affirmation in self-belief. A lovely whimsical piece of Casiotone folktronica, Daly said “it’s very much ‘Neon Lights’ meets ‘Autobahn’”
With a range of tempo variation, ‘Based On A True Story’ was the undoubtedly the best album of Swedish trio DAYBEHAVIOR’s long if sporadic career. Including a number of more danceable numbers to counterpoint the more laid back aspects of their cinematic sound without losing any of their exquisite aesthetics, one of the best examples could be heard in the fabulous Europop number ‘Driving In My Car’. It was just one part of a priceless collection of quality Scandipop.
Available on the album ‘Based On A True Story’ via Graplur
Nearly four decades is a long time to wait for a debut album, but with Wakefield’s FIAT LUX, it was been worth it. Recalling BLACK and CHINA CRISIS, the guarded optimism of ‘We Can Change The World’ provided a call to action in these turbulent times within an uptempo setting dressed with bubbling synths and rousing dual vocals sweetened by smooth sax. Steve Wright and David P Crickmore honoured their late band mate Ian Nelson in the best way possible with their recorded and live return.
Georgia Barnes is the daughter of LEFTFIELD’s Neil Barnes and the former drummer for Kate Tempest. Although her eponymous debut album possessed a more urban DIY feel, her sound has recently moved into more accessible electronic pop territory. From upcoming second album ‘Seeking Thrills’, the gloriously throbbing workout of ‘About Work The Dancefloor’ took its lead from ROBYN with its rousing Scandipop sheen, offset by a creepy distorted vocal refrain.
A Copenhagen domiciled German, classically schooled Greta Louise Schenk teamed up with Norwegian producer FARAO to enter a dreamy synthpop universe. With its unusual rhythmic structure and chromatic overtones, ‘White’ could have been an art rock number? “I often wonder how this song came out of me” she said, “I actually wrote it on my Irish bouzouki, which may explain the chords. I was listening a lot to LANA DEL REY and it was quite a dark time in my life.”
Another project of Johnny Jewel, HEAVEN first came to wider attention with the ‘Lonesome Town’ EP. Fronted by the enigmatic allure of singer and keyboardist Aja, the brilliant ‘Truth Or Dare’ perhaps unsurprisingly sounded like CHROMATICS but with more synths and drum machine. While on tour as keyboardist with DESIRE, Aja took the title literally when they performed a cover of NEW ORDER’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and Jewel watched nearby…
ALICE HUBBLE is the new solo project of Alice Hubley, previously best known for fronting ARTHUR & MARTHA and COSINES. Hubley’s synth earth mother demeanour came to the fore on the sub-OMD of ‘We Are Still Alone’. While the lilting bass and elegiac transistorised melody were glorious, when the synth strings responded in that ASHRA style, it became perfect avant pop with Hubley sadly resigning to herself that she “couldn’t find the way to make me better”.
Leeds based singer / songwriter IMI is gifted with a most glorious soprano but she applies that and her love of analogue synths to an intelligent avant pop aesthetic. ‘I Feel Alright’ with its sharp melodic call and ethereal voices headed into assertive optimism. This most promising young synth talent told The Electricity Club: “This song was written after a few years of struggling with some personal issues and it was a celebration of finally feeling ok and feeling hopeful about the future.”
Hailing from Sheffield, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP and their world of academia would make “eccentric Northern electronic pop” compulsory on the curriculum. From their vibrant and accessible self-titled debut album, the bubbly ‘Love Girl’ was a luscious cross between DUBSTAR and THE HUMAN LEAGUE. Cosmic but catchy, their intelligent musical escapism has been just the tonic in these turbulent times. One of their manifesto statements is “Smile at the neon and the mirrorball”.
Producing his most synthpop work in ages, originally from the ‘Eddie The Eagle’ film sessions, Howard Jones said of ‘Hero In Your Eyes’: “I was really drawn to the part where his parents were amazing, continuing to believe in him when he was obviously not really very good at what he’d chosen to do, they kept supporting him. So him being a hero in their eyes always, that ‘I’ll be there for you’ feeling, I thought that it was something a lot of people could relate to”
Coming over like the love child of Richard Butler and Neil Tennant, KNIGHT$ made synthwaves with his sparkly Britalo on his energetic debut album ‘Dollars & Cents’. The Hi-NRG romp of ‘Hijack My Heart’ aped BRONSKI BEAT complete with a closing bursts of falsetto as the Winchester lad tightened his glitzy clubbing trousers to full effect and even dropped in a blistering synth solo to add to the fun. It was a highlight on one of the best albums of 2019.
LADYTRON produced their last offering ‘Gravity The Seducer’ in 2011. Their recent heavier self-titled reboot saw the quartet of Helen Marnie, Mira Aroyo, Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu entering the ‘Deadzone’. Unsettlingly percussive and full of tension but hitting the spot with the right dose of melodic elements intertwined with haunting grit and grime, LADYTRON were back with a sucker punch. All in all, it was a fantastic comeback.
LIZETTE LIZETTE is Lizette Nordahl, a gender neutral Swedish / Peruvian producer and performance artist whose first mini-album album ‘Queerbody’ was released 2017. The beautifully sad Nordic synth ballad ‘Computer Game’ was written in tribute to a departed friend. Showcasing Nordahl’s more emotive side, it was a quality that had not been obviously apparent in LIZETTE LIZETTE’s more danced-based recordings.
Reflecting gloomier times, ‘Anthropocene’ saw MACHINISTA produce their most consistent body of work yet. Vocalist John Lindqwister and instrumentalist Richard Flow took their time in a refinement of their anthemic signature sound and the addition of some conventionally flavoured twists. The title song took its lead from the dark electronic pop of Norway’s APOPTYGMA BERZERK and owed more than a debt to the haunting riff of ‘Burning Heretic’ in the ultimate sorcerer’s apprentice spell.
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Canadian Hayley Stewart. ‘Apathy’ from her new album ‘Let’s!’ can only be described as delightfully nuts, with an inventive mix of a jazz swing Charleston vibe, frantic techno dance beats and vibrant synthpop hooks. It showed she was not afraid to blend seemingly incongruous influences to get an end result and with a slight sprinkling of Japanese instrumentation to close, the eclectic creative cycle was complete!
Swedish songstress Karin My sang with veteran combo TWICE A MAN on their poignant environmental catastrophe warning ‘High In The Clouds’ in 2105. Her solo single ‘The Silence’ was one of the first truly great songs of 2019. Swathed in beautiful synths and embroiled in that wonderful Scandinavian melancholy, her gorgeous vocals evoked a forlorn abandonment just as a wintery chill set in with the sad dilemma of whether to give up…
The mighty Italo Disco statement of ‘Left Behind’ came complete with obligatory orchestra stabs and a rousing chorus, gleefully fusing SAVAGE, RAF, PET SHOP BOYS and BEE GEES within a big Trevor Horn styled kitchen sink! But despite the fun laden octave shift frenzy, the lyrics were concerned with midlife reflection. Michael Oakley told The Electricity Club: “the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage.”
Every now and then, the world needs a lively unpretentious synth instrumental record. With the second OBLONG album ‘The Sea At Night’, the trio of Benge, Dave Nice and Sid Stronarch delivered a collection of rustic electro-acoustic organically farmed electronica! With mood and pace, ‘Echolocation’ was a classic synth instrumental with its crystalline textures and charming slightly off-key blips, aurally reflecting the remote moorland location in Cornwall where it was recorded.
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, they came full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captured the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
Feisty, fiery and on-message as “your abused Barbie doll from childhood”, Lauren Lusardi, better known as PLASMIC dropped yet another synth bomb with a vivid narrative on the fame game where women have to compromise and serve the male gaze to get to where they want. While pink is her colour, the rugged lo-fi cocoon of anxious sound penetrated the soul with a raging reminder that if “You wanna be famous?”, then really “Don’t be so f*cking brainless!”
Available on the single ‘Famous’ via CandyShop Recordings
“Beautiful melodies telling me terrible things” said a cartoon meme… with echoes of OMD, the life and death of the tragic Soyuz 1 cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was captured poignantly in this instrumental by QUIETER THAN SPIDERS from their brilliant debut album ‘Signs Of Life’; Yi Fan from the anonymous Chinese synth trio said: “we were moved by the human story behind it all together with the haunting backdrop of primitive space experimentation.”
Danish duo SOFTWAVE have been gaining momentum with endorsements from luminaries such as ex-members of THE HUMAN LEAGUE Jo Callis and Ian Burden, while improving enormously since their 2016 debut EP ‘Together Alone’. Punctuated by machines of ice, ‘No Need To Hide’ was undoubtedly Clarkean, celebrating positivity in possibly SOFTWAVE’s finest moment yet with one of those rousing Scandipop choruses and coming over not unlike Celine Dion fronting ERASURE.
The powerful electro R’N’B tinged ‘Way Out’ was the first English language taster from Beijing-born songstress’ ambitious new Anglo-Mandarin bilingual album project. Fifi Rong said of her concept to The Electricity Club: “I’m making a double album. One album in Chinese and the other in English. Not the typical type of translation type of bilingual album from one language to another… So the two albums are all individual songs interlinked in sounds, themes, vibes.”
Andrew Montgomery, best known as the vocalist of GENEVA who scored hits with ‘Into The Blue’ and ‘Best Regrets’ in 1997, teamed up with Leo Josefsson of Stockholm trio LOWE to form the electronic duo US. If Jeff Buckley had dumped his Fender Telecaster for a Korg MS20, then that is the dark anthemic sound of US. ‘Voyager’ went all spacey avant trance in a wonderful cross-pollination of styles that came over a bit like MUSE at Gatecrasher.
It was a big year for WITCH OF THE VALE as their highly spirited otherworldly sound, deeply rooted in Celtic folklore and Wiccan beliefs, found a sympathetic audience at Infest 2019. The eponymous track from their second EP introduced serene, yet uncertain feelings channelled via clear but eerie vocals over the croon from a raven. This angelic ballad put all the fears to sleep and demonstrated how Erin and Ryan Hawthorne sound are like nothing else within the world of modern electronica.
Although best known as the lead vocalist for FM-84 on ‘Running In The Night’, Ollie Wride unleashed his debut solo album in 2019. The Driver’ put into dynamic realisation as to what SIMPLE MINDS might have sounded like had Moroder-graduate Keith Forsey produced the 1985 ‘Once Upon A Time’ album instead of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain. The superb grouchy synth rock saw the Brighton boy successfully pull off a cross between Jim Kerr and Billy Idol!
Between 1982-1985, FIAT LUX released six singles which showcased their electronically assisted melancholic pop sound with a distinct dual vocal harmony and a rooted emotional centre.
The trio of Steve Wright, David P Crickmore and Ian Nelson were critically acclaimed with BBC Radio1 airplay and a notable appearance on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ as part of a synthesizer special alongside KRAFTWERK and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.
Meanwhile, FIAT LUX also opened on tours for BLANCMANGE and HOWARD JONES. They even had a Channel 4 TV special which later became the ‘Commercial Breakdown’ video release in 1985 but by then, the trio had disbanded under the spectre of disillusionment following the shelving of their already complete debut album by Polydor Records.
Ian Nelson sadly passed away in 2006 but interest in FIAT LUX continued through the internet with the leaking of that debut album under the title of ‘Fac Ut Vivas’. Fast forward to 2019 and it’s rather a nice time to be a FIAT LUX fan.
Not only have Steve Wright and David P Crickmore reunited as FIAT LUX, but there has finally been a debut album of all-new material ‘Saved Symmetry’. Meanwhile, that unreleased debut album has been issued by Cherry Red Records using the title ‘Ark Of Embers’ as a bonus disc with a definitive singles compilation ‘Hired History Plus’.
Churches formed part of the backdrop in ‘Commercial Breakdown’, so St Clements C of E Church in Bradford was the ideal serene setting for the first FIAT LUX concert in 35 years. Opening with the desolate filmic drama of ‘Tuesday’, multi-instrumentalist Crickmore took to the stage first on acoustic guitar.
With the song’s understated vocals holding off until nearly three minutes in to create mood and tension, Wright joined his bandmate before deputising for the late Ian Nelson, Will Howard arrived on clarinet to counterpoint the pre-programmed washes of Morricone-styled synthetic strings.
Before there was time for a breather, the incessant drum machine of ‘Feels Like Winter Again’ echoed around the church. The very first FIAT LUX single (produced by Bill Nelson, brother of Ian), its ambiguous despair and forlorn chill reflecting the trauma of young manhood was perfect for a cold rainy night in the North of England’.
From the oldest FIAT LUX single to the most recent, ‘Everyday In Heaven’ declared that getting older was actually a positive with up-for-life lyrics about embracing second chances. Following on, the gorgeously evocative ‘Photography’ looked back with photos of the original projected as a backdrop with Howard doing a superb job of emulating his talented predecessor.
The progressive ‘Hold Me While You Can’ showed how FIAT LUX are still not afraid to merge contrasting musical templates with a steady build from piano and woodwinds suddenly turning into TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘We Have A Technical’.
‘The Moment’ from ‘Ark Of Embers’ mellowed proceedings with the solemn air of Scott Walker before ‘We Can Change The World’ made a call to action in a lively uptempo manner like BLACK meeting CHINA CRISIS.
At this point after an understandably nervous start, Wright began to loosen up with some dancing and flashes of those animated arm movements that characterised his appearance on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ all those years ago.
Meanwhile, moving between acoustic and electric guitar, bass and Roland Jupiter 50, Crickmore performed like he had never been away from FIAT LUX, his facial expressions unable to hide his bouncing delight at being able to perform these wonderful songs to an appreciative audience.
Described by their producer Hugh Jones as the slowest song he had ever recorded, ‘Embers’ recalled PINK FLOYD’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ to gently subside the mood, but well-positioned to provide another rhythmic lift was ‘It’s You’; the first new FIAT LUX song for 33 years at the time of its release in 2018, it lyric about finding love again in midlife was a sentiment that many present could totally relate to.
The elegiac cinematics of ‘Calling On Angels’ allowed for another moment of musical contemplation with more superb sax playing from Will Howard, until it was time for the brilliant widescreen synthpop of ‘Solitary Lovers’, a tune that was effectively the last FIAT LUX song until 2018.
On the home straight, ‘Splurge’ offered some enjoyably screechy gothic disco with Crickmore playing the guitar hero, until the main set closed with the magnificent ‘Blue Emotion’, a song that really should have been a huge hit in 1984.
Reflecting the gung-ho zeitgeist of the times, its stark observations were now more than relevant in today’s unpleasant political climate.
Returning for a well-deserved encore, it had to be the haunting ‘Secrets’. A 1983 single which highlighted the deeper introspection that set FIAT LUX apart from many of their contemporaries, it has over the years become their signature song, as signified by the 2017 re-recording that heralded a tentative return.
However, it took a few false starts but once Wright got through the first verse, there was an almighty cheer from the audience and smiles from the band, probably through a sense of relief that this first FIAT LUX show for three and a half decades was finally now done and dusted. A fabulous evening exuding charm and warmth, Wright was in fine voice and ably supported by Crickmore, while Will Howard played the perfect tribute to Ian Nelson.
It was a largely flawless display of old and new angst and affection that proved how FIAT LUX were criminally overlooked back in the day.
But now is the perfect time for them to get some well-deserved recognition. With a vinyl LP release of ‘Ark Of Embers’ on the way, FIAT LUX are indeed back-back-BACK!
Yes, it was well worth the 35 year wait!
With grateful thanks to Ange Chan
FIAT LUX play The Blue Orange Theatre in Birmingham on Saturday 9th November 2019