NEW RO is a Helsinki-based singer, songwriter and producer with a cheeky sense of humour that she often vivaciously expresses via her social media.
Known by her mother as Ronja, she released her first music in 2018, beginning with the saucily titled R’n’B pop of ‘I Cum’.
With an approach that is melodic, rhythmic and vulnerable, NEW RO released the appropriately spacey ‘Kosmos’ EP at the start of 2020, with the title song having a delightful GRIMES approach circa ‘Visions’.
The opening title song is a fabulously dreamy trance tune with an alluring vocal performance from NEW RO over a throbbing electronic soundscape that engages the mind and the feet. An equivalent artist for reference would be Sweden’s LIZETTE LIZETTE who also places techno backbones into an avant pop setting; “I forget myself” she happily declares.
Initially sparser, ‘Trickle’ enters ROBYN mode and passionately builds into something quite percussive and most of the remaining tracks on this EP follow a similar vibe. With an airy warbling flavour laced with gated voices, ‘3’ explores more Balearic territory.
Meanwhile ‘Don’t Talk To Me On The Dancefloor It’s Really Annoying’ visits Detroit via its hypnotic club drive, although it is all given an icy Finnish twist with the surprising addition of kantele! However, ‘Everything’ closes proceedings with something more abstract and reprises the esoteric side to NEW RO that appeared on ‘Kosmos’.
A vintage string machine is thrown into ‘Everything’ amongst the prominent textural swoops and layers of treated vocals which are aesthetically not far off YELLO collaborator FIFI RONG.
“I wanted to emulate the feeling of hazy and euphoric nights in a great company” said NEW RO, “My friends have inspired this EP and I want to see them dancing to it.”
While the title track is the definite stand-out from ‘i o u’, as was the case on her previous release ‘Kosmos’, NEW RO has shown promise with her two most recent EPs and The Electricity Club awaits with interest as to how she progresses creatively in the future.
‘i o u’ is released by Solina Records via the usual digital outlets
Like Sweden, as a country with a relatively small population in relation to land mass, Canada punches above its weight when it comes to its contribution to popular music.
Canada’s internationally famous artists may be Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Alanis Morisette, but there have been so many more that have been far more interesting.
Canada has been a significant presence in synth from the post-punk pioneers such as NASH THE SLASH and CERAMIC HELLO, to international MTV-era hits from the likes of MEN WITHOUT HATS, TRANS-X and KON KAN, up to the present day via the mainstream profile of GRIMES, PURITY RING and CRYSTAL CASTLES. Meanwhile, it also has developed into a hub for the burgeoning sub-genre of Synthwave thanks to FM ATTACK and DANA JEAN PHOENIX.
Like in the UK with the availability of affordability of technology from Japan in particular, Canadian youngsters were taking up synthesizers. And while several were to attain cult status like RATIONAL YOUTH and PYSCHE, some such as the Winnipeg trio EUROPA were destined just to have their moment on domestic television without an official release to their name.
Today, the tradition continues with artists such as DEADMAU5, TIGA, KOISHII & HUSH, LOLA DUTRONIC and TECHNIQUES BERLIN covering a wide spectrum of electronic pop and dance music.
So here is The Electricity Club’s list of 25 tracks from the circuit boards of Canada, subject to a limit of one per artist moniker, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order. But notice a void in between 1990 to 2000 when it could be said that the likes of Dion, Adams and Morisette dominated the airwaves of the globe.
However, the number of electronic acts who have appeared in the 21st Century have more than made up for things.
CERAMIC HELLO Climatic Nouveaux (1980)
CERAMIC HELLO were a duo who hailed from Burlington in Ontario, formed by Brett Wickens in 1980 after leaving post-punk band SPOONS. He teamed up with Roger Humphreys who added a more classical bent to their minimal synth in the vein of JOHN FOXX and FAD GADGET. Their first release was the detached cold wave paranoia of ‘Climatic Nouveaux’. Wickens later moved to England to join Peter Saville Associates, making a major contribution to the artwork for OMD’s ‘Architecture & Morality’.
NASH THE SLASH opened for GARY NUMAN and was signed to Dindisc Records. It was during this period that he had his highest mainstream media profile with features in ‘Smash Hits’; it was with the pop mag that his best known recording in the UK came via a blue flexi-disc with an early self-produced stripped down version of ‘Swing-Shift’ sitting next to his label mates OMD’s live rendition of ‘Pretending To See The Future’. He sadly passed away in 2014.
Hailing from Montreal, ‘The Safety Dance’ was written by MEN WITHOUT HATS lead singer Ivan Doroschuk after he had been kicked out of a club for pogoing, thus it was effectively a protest song against conformity, a call for freedom of expression. it had been misinterpreted as a being about safe sex and as an anti-nuclear protest song. The bouncy almost medieval feel combined with Doroschuk’s vocals like a less doomy Andrew Eldritch to produce a huge international hit.
Hailing from Toronto and lead by Gordon Deppe, after the acclaim for the 1981 debut album ‘Stick Figure Neighbourhood’, the songs on the second ‘Arias & Symphonies’ were more European influenced. With JAPAN producer John Punter behind the desk, the title song was an perfect amalgam of prog theatrics, new wave gallop and synth pomp. SPOONS were soon to be opening for bands such as SIMPLE MINDS and THE POLICE. Today, Deppe is also the guitarist for A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS.
STRANGE ADVANCE were a Canadian new wave band formed in Vancouver, made up of Drew Arnott (keyboards, percussion, vocals), Darryl Kromm (lead vocals, guitars), and Paul Iverson (bass). Utilising synthesizers and advances in programming technology, their music was a fusion of progressive rock and MTV friendly pop that struck a chord, with the lyrical couplet “The time is right / We’ll love tonight” of ‘Love Games’ capturing the mood of times.
The stunning Martha Ladly was more than just a pretty face; she was a musician, vocalist, artist and designer. Following her stints with MARTHA & THE MUFFINS, ASSOCIATES and doing paintings for Peter Saville’s NEW ORDER sleeve artwork, she teamed up with Brett Wickens from CERAMIC HELLO on this charming pop tune which echoed THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Open Your Heart’. Peter Hook provided his distinctive melodic six-string bass while the dynamic production came from Steve Nye.
Originally released as a single by Island Records, currently unavailable
The classic RATIONAL YOUTH line-up of Tracy Howe, Bill Vorn and Kevin Komoda gained acclaim for their 1982 debut album ‘Cold War Night Life’, which became one of the biggest-selling Canadian independent albums at the time and secured a deal with Capitol Records. However, Vorn left to continue his university studies, but contributed synth programming to ‘Holiday In Bangkok’, a sinister overwrought warning about the dangers of becoming international drug mule.
Available on the album ‘Heredity’ via Capitol Records
French-born Canadian Pascal Languirand was the man behind TRANS-X, and had previously been known for his spacey progressive rock solo albums like ‘Minos’ and ‘De Harmonia Universalia’. Originally issued in French as ‘Vivre Sur Video’, this cosmic octave-shifting electronic dance tune, with additional vocals by Laurie Ann Gill, became a massive hit worldwide after being re-released in 1985 and went onto to influence Electroclash artists such as FISCHERSPOONER and MISS KITTIN.
PSYCHE are the acclaimed dark synthpop duo from Edmonton, founded by the Huss brothers Darrin and Stephen. Of the foreboding overtones of ‘The Saint Became A Lush’, “Many think the main sequence sounds like ‘Tubular Bells’ and there may be some element of that as it was used in ‘The Exorcist’ movie which my brother loved” Darrin said, “It’s also inspired by JOY DIVISION, as I was really going for the sound of a world weary preacher and channelling the voice of Ian Curtis for that.”
“Love cannot attach itself to binding ugliness” goes the theatrical horror of ‘Dig It’; formed in Vancouver by cEvin Key of IMAGES IN VOGUE and vocalist Nivek Ogre, SKINNY PUPPY are widely considered as the pioneers of industrial. ‘Dig It’ was a big favourite of NINE INCH NAILS mainman Trent Reznor and heavily influenced his own track ‘Down In It’ which appeared on ‘Pretty Hate Machine’, so much so that he later confessed he had actually sampled it!
Mitsou Annie Marie Gélinas achieved the comparatively unusual feat of having a francophone pop hit across Canada with ‘Bye Bye Mon Cowboy’. But her best tune was the saucy Fairlighted ‘Les Chinois’ from the multicultural-themed album ‘El Mundo’. Written and produced by Jean Pierre Isaac who later worked with Céline Dion, she exclaimed “Non non non c’est pas comme ça, qu’on fait l’amour, regarde les Chinois”… was she trying to make babies?
The project of Barry Harris, the KON KAN name was a play on the policy of “Canadian Content” which enforced Canadian radio station to air at least 30% domestic music. Voiced by Kevin Wynne, ‘I Beg Your Pardon’ was not just content with borrowing off NEW ORDER but inspired by ‘Pump Up The Volume’, used samples of other songs like ‘Rose Garden’, ‘Disco Nights (Rock-Freak)’ and ‘Get Up & Boogie’, as well as National Lampoon’s ‘Disco Hotline’. This mash-up became a huge international one hit wonder.
Toronto-based Jason Amm is all about “synthesizers, drum machines, fx, knobs, buttons, wires, wave, electro, acid”. But while he is now best known for his documentary film ‘I Dream Of Wires’, he has a vast catalogue of music released under the SOLVENT moniker. With gentle vocoder treatments and glorious whirring synths, ‘Wish’ set a pattern for acts like FOTONOVELA and QUIETER THAN SPIDERS to follow in the understated melodic machine pop stakes.
Toronto’s DRAGONETTE comprised of singer Martina Sorbara, producer Dan Kurtz and drummer Joel Stouffer. The acclaim for their self-released self-titled EP led to a deal with Mercury Records and a relocation to the UK. Opening shows for BASEMENT JAXX and SUGABABES, the highlight of their debut album ‘Galore’ was ‘I Get Around’ which was previewed on Planet Clique and Lucky Pierre’s ‘Robopop – The Return’ compilation. It also was used in ‘The Vampire Diaries’.
Available on the album ‘Galore’ via Mercury Records
With ‘Drive’ star Ryan Gosling being a notable FM ATTACK admirer, Shawn Ward has concocted a unique hybrid electronic sound combining Gino Soccio and Giorgio Moroder with Italo disco, French house, new wave and post-punk, all with a fine-honed musicality. From 2009’s ‘Dreamatic’ album which opened up the gates and led the way for what was to become Synthwave, ‘Sleepless Nights’ crossed arpeggios with octave lilts for an enjoyable vocoder-laced romp.
Named after a line in ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’ and capturing a gritty lo-fi electronic sound, Toronto’s CRYSTAL CASTLES were a world apart from other modern duos with chaotic live shows that had an almost demonic energy. With Ethan Kath’s deliberately distorted synthetic goth-punk and Alice Glass’ afflicted vocal presence, ‘Suffocation’ was haunted, yet captured an understated beauty. But in October 2014, Glass announced that she was leaving to pursue a solo career amid acrimony.
Named after the goddess of light in Latvian mythology, Toronto’s AUSTRA deliver a stark, baroque form of arty electronica fuelled by the sexual tension. Like a gothic opera which successfully blended light and darkness with fragility and power, Katie Stelmanis and friends borrowed from classic DEPECHE MODE and crossed it with THE KNIFE for ‘Spellwork’, their most accessibly brilliant synthpop offering from their debut album ‘Feel It Break’.
While Claire Boucher might be now more widely known for being the girlfriend of Elon Musk, she began as the kooky Montreal sensation GRIMES, sounding like LYKKE LI fronting KRAFTWERK. Presented in a fun leftfield lady meets pop princess fusion, ‘Oblivion’ was a sumptuously infectious tune that despite the almost unintelligible vocals and weird noises, was probably the most immediate track on her ‘Visions’ album which also featured less immediate but equally enjoyable ‘Genesis’.
Behind PARALLELS is Holly Dodson and on their second long player was a lovely synthpop version of GOWAN’s 1987 rock tune ‘Moonlight Desires’. She said of her love for the song: “We hear the original version it all the time in Canada. It’s always fulfilled all the necessary criteria – incredible hooks, the moon, magic melodies, nostalgia. I just recently learned that GOWAN’s actually heard the cover… and approves!! Which is SUCH a relief haha…”
Available on the album ‘XII’ via Marigold Productions
TR/ST began as the project of Robert Alfons and AUSTRA’s Maya Postepski. Although Postepski left to return to AUSTRA, the debut ‘TRST’ made a slow burning impact as Alfons toured his “Eeyore gone goth” electro template around the world. From it, the filthy ‘Gloryhole’ was a wondrous combination of sinister portamento and hypnotic dance beats. Postepski returned to the fold for the recent double album opus ‘The Destroyer’, but Alfons still remains something of an awkward character.
Bill Leeb formed FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY in 1986 after his short stint with SKINNY PUPPY under the name Wilhelm Schroeder. With Rhys Fulber as the other long standing member, they were influenced by acts such as CABARET VOLTAIRE, PORTION CONTROL, DAF, TEST DEPT and SPK. Having integrated guitars, FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY returned to making exclusively electronic music on their fifteenth album ‘Echogenetic’, the highlight of which was ‘Killing Grounds’.
Hailing from Toronto, ELECTRIC YOUTH‘s collaboration with COLLEGE entitled ‘A Real Hero’ was included on the ‘Drive’ soundtrack’ in 2011. Their debut album ‘Innerworld’ finally came out in Autumn 2014 and one of its highlights was another collaboration, this time with ROOM8 called ‘Without You’. Echoing Aussie combo ICEHOUSE and ‘Great Southern Land’ in particular, its bridge and chorus were particularly tremendous with a nostalgic Brat Pack movie presence.
Available on the album ‘Innerworld’ via Last Gang Entertainment / Secretly Canadian
With CHVRCHES having had success borrowing PURITY RING’s electro template, the Edmonton duo’s sophomore album ‘Another Eternity’ was more focussed than its predecessor ‘Shrines’. Still utilising glitch techniques, booming bass drops and Corin Roddick’s rattling drum machine programming, ‘Begin Again’ made the most of Megan James’ sweet and dreamy voice. The pair off a major surprise by working with Katy Perry on three songs for her 2017 album ‘Witness’.
Self-described as a “Retro Synthwave Singer”, Toronto’s DANA JEAN PHOENIX isn’t a stranger to synthylicious ditties. Having moved away slightly from pure Synthwave styles, as one of the best live solo synth performers currently, she enjoys rocking out onstage with her keytar Jareth. The sparkling template of one of her most rousing numbers ‘Only One For One Night’ brought along a youthful escapism that reminisced about first loves and first disappointments.
Available on the album ‘PixelDust’ via New EmPire Entertainment
Behind the quirky avant pop of MECHA MAIKO is the talented Torontonian, Hayley Stewart. The delightfully odd ‘Apathy’ from her second album ‘Let’s!’ was an inventive oddball fusion of jazz swing Charleston, 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!
With her performance art ethos, Melbourne-based SUI ZHEN offers surreal observations on the intersections between human life and technology.
With echoes of Los Angeles songstress SINOSA, ‘Perfect Place’ is a delightfully odd but accessible trailer to SUI ZHEN’s brand new long playing offering ‘Losing, Linda’, the genesis of which began during an artistic residency in Japan and completed in Australia under the trauma of her mother’s ill health and eventual passing.
This life changing experience has undoubtedly influenced the self-directed visual presentation for ‘Perfect Place’.
It introduces Linda, a digital doppelgänger and avatar. Not an easy watch, with the ghostly apparition representing the fragments of self and avatars left behind after one dies in the physical realm, the question being asked is “do our digital selves ever fully disappear?”
Playfully wispy, ‘Perfect Place’ itself is a wonderful slice of pentatonic avant pop, with eerie spoken passages and bursts of delightful melodica offset by hypnotic arpeggios and danceable rhythms.
‘Losing, Linda’ follows up 2015‘s ‘Secretly Susan’, a breakthrough recording which featured the quirky single ‘Take It All Back’, a minimal bass synth driven number laced with very high voices like GRIMES meeting LET’S EAT GRANDMA and the innocence of ‘Dear Teri’ which revealed much jazzier overtones.
Zhen promises a mix of Japanese City Pop, Sade, Tracey Thorn, Laurie Anderson and Suzanne Ciani for her new album.
‘Perfect Place’ is from the album ‘Losing, Linda’ which will be released by Cascine in North America and Dot Dash in Australia / New Zealand on 27th September 2019
From DEAD ASTRONAUTS, the lo-fi synth project of Jared Nickerson and Hayley Stewart, a new star is born.
With the name transcending Toronto based Stewart’s fascination with Japanese culture, cyber space and the love of vintage synthesis, MECHA MAIKO releases her debut album ‘Mad But Soft’.
The Geisha-like robot brings a much needed freshness and romance into the world of electronica, and she’s doing it with grace, sensuality and poise. Loaded with rhythmic tunes, ‘Mad But Soft’ ventures into the spheres of delicate femininity, girlishness and synthlicious electro pink, packaged in shiny wrapping and served with a big, glitter coated ribbon.
It’s not your naive, mindless, happy-go-lucky pop songs, however. With nonchalance, Stewart introduces the listener into her magical world of sound, as if the synth was born yesterday. From the title track, with its pulsating East meets West vibe, through the gems like ‘False Memories’, which could have been part of the ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack, to the unselfishly grown-up ‘Electric Heat’ with its CHVRCHES similarities, Stewart proves she’s not only a capable songwriter but a slick vocalist too.
‘Cold Hard Ground’ opens the long player with a GRIMES meets ZOLA JESUS sound far, far away in snow covered Japan, where they play with their manga inspired synth toys. The robot doesn’t stop there, as ‘Bike Night’ lets those filters open and the magic happen for the most perfect mechanical pop. ‘Tomodachi’ could have been a lost MADONNA tune, Stewart’s vocals resemble the pop princess’, as much as the voice layering and melody interplay.
Once the ‘Contract’ is signed, ‘Auto Fire’ steps in with endless arpeggios over heavily punctuated industrial pulses, smoothed by intricate delicacies of Stewart’s vocal.
Before we ‘Fade To Black’, with its strikingly familiar tonality to MAJOR LAZER’s ‘Get Free’, DANA JEAN PHOENIX meets MECHA MAIKO on ‘Cold’; probably the most danceable synthwave track on the production. The song was partially inspired by WAVESHAPER’s ‘Radio Signal’ and JANET JACKSON herself probably wouldn’t shy away if presented with this little gem.
Uncomplicated on the surface yet multi-layered, thought through and simply delicious, ‘Mad But Soft’ does exactly what it says on the tin.
Easy listening synthpop, as if lifted out straight from the classic era, is flowing through its veins like mechanically instigated lava; the magma of amalgamation of electric melodies, capable synth and vocals with audible influences from BJÖRK, MADONNA and ROBIN S. What a debut!
ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY is the multi-faceted Russian musician and artist Diana Burkot.
Part of the Anti-Ghost Moon Ray collective that brought the world GAZELLE TWIN, BERNHOLZ and ANNEKA, Burkot’s debut album is entitled ‘❤’, because in Burkot’s own words, it is “an image that cannot be spoken, at a time when visual aesthetics are the priority”. Like with OMD’s recent single ‘Isotype’, it is a sardonic commentary on how communication has now been reduced to emojis and likes, thanks to the soulless overreliance on social media.
As if to reinforce this concept, the previously unveiled ‘Purr’ is shaped by a gentle conceptual slice of leftfield while its accompanying video challenges “Self-identification through social networks” ?
ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY first came to wider attention via the ‘Annual General Meeting Record – Volume 2’ cassette which featured her label mates as well as I SPEAK MACHINE and NEAR FUTURE, a side project of BLANCMANGE’s Neil Arthur.
That particular track ‘Play or Pay’ features on ‘❤’ and like an artier LADYTRON circa ‘604’, it’s a brilliantly screechy percussive set piece with eerie vocal stylings from Burkot that add mystery and intrigue. Meanwhile, the GRIMES-like ‘Plastic Soup’ continues with that mood.
‘❤’ actually starts with ‘Røst’, an enigmatic instrumental comprised of unsettling atmospheric layers, but this is not wholly representative of the rest of the album.
‘Drumly’ does what it says on the tin but with drum machine and kooky rolled vocals, while the explicitly titled intensity of ‘Spring’s Sh*t’ actually comes over as a joyous piece of reverberant electronic experimentation.
Beginning with a big bass drone, this artful intent is also omnipresent on ‘A Song for Theo’s Animals’; the buzzes and electric shrills over a noisy percussive collage are offset by Burkot’s soprano and a swimmy string machine. Not to be left out, the dramatic boom of ‘Debris’ sits well within its surroundings.
Although not for everyone, ‘❤’ is a promising debut from ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY that captures today’s darkness while also projecting a witty angelic innocence.
Delightfully odd, short but sweet, this is a work of stranger things to savour.