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 😉
Celebrating the first two albums by THE HUMAN LEAGUE of which he was a founding member, electronic pop pioneer Martyn Ware will be joining HEAVEN 17 vocalist Glenn Gregory to perform ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ at two special shows in September 2020.
The way it was in the past, a long long time ago, Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and Philip Oakey released their first single ‘Being Boiled’ on Fast Product in June 1978. The independent label’s impresario Bob Last subsequently became their manager.
A deal was signed with Virgin Records under the A&R directorship of Simon Draper, who had the vision and foresight to realise that THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s synthesizers only sound was the future of pop music; among the band’s early champions were David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
With Adrian Wright on board as a non-playing band member in the role of Director of Visuals, the live concert presentations of THE HUMAN LEAGUE were stark and dark, with Wright’s slides of ‘Star Trek’, ‘Captain Scarlet’ and ‘Hawaii Five-O’ amongst those accompanying the musical trio’s largely static on-stage persona.
The serious music press loved it and highlighted how Marsh performed inside a cage of clear Perspex as a symbol of his detachment and disaffection… it was in fact a gob shield to protect himself and his rig of synthesizers from spittle, a consequence of supporting punk bands like SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES!
However, a lack of commercial success at the time led to an engineered split by Bob Last and Virgin Records in 1980. Oakey and Wright, who kept THE HUMAN LEAGUE name, recruited two girls Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley to record the massive selling ‘Dare’ with Ian Burden and Jo Callis under the production supervision of Martin Rushent, while Ware and Marsh formed BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION and its pop subsidiary HEAVEN 17 featuring Glenn Gregory, who also found success with the gold certified ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
Martyn Ware talked to The Electricity Club about his time in THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the making of those two seminal electronic pop albums…
This ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ showcase has been mooted for some time now, so what has enabled it to finally become reality?
It’s been quite a long time in the planning. We tested the waters with our agent via various promoters and it took a while to convince them, which I found amazing. They were bit nervous that it might be too confusing for the public, I just said “Put it on, it will sell out!”
It’s about how it’s sold to the public, we’re not pretending we were reforming THE HUMAN LEAGUE, all the publicity states this is HEAVEN 17’s interpretation of those two albums, we’re not trying to be a tribute act. As you well know, I was the major writer on most of those tracks. I always felt they deserved a wider audience, hence why we’ve played a lot of those songs live with HEAVEN 17 anyway.
The Virgin40 thing in 2013 was a stealth testing of the waters to see what the reaction would be, everybody seemed to love it so we decided to start the ball rolling. Eventually the HEAVEN 17 tour of last year tipped the balance that we knew what we were talking about.
It is an interesting concept. We’re spending quite a bit of money on the production, I wanted to make sure that was right and the venues were right. Who knows? We might even do a few more of them, if it is deemed to be successful.
Will there be slides to illustrate the songs like at THE HUMAN LEAGUE shows back in the day?
I love the notion of the using original equipment, but the problem of using Kodak 5 projectors is you can get hold of them, but they’re not very bright.
That would mean things would have to be quite dark like it was in the first place, plus they’re quite unreliable.
So what we’re doing is paying homage to the slides by predominantly keeping the same format and simulating the way the slides use to look and the way they used to change, like with timings and stuff. So we have Malcolm Garrett in who is kind of taking the place of Adrian Wright. Like him, he’s bonkers and a collector and has a unique take on the visual world. He’s going to be on stage, controlling the slide show, triggering it live, it won’t all be pre-programmed.
Because we are doing it via digital means, we have the option to do some other stuff, we’d like to leave a few things as surprises. There are some other visual artists who are involved; there may well be some moving image thing as part of the show.
But there won’t be any need for gob shields?
No! I think all the punks have grown up…
…they’re all lecturers now!
Yeah! A lot of people from my age group were proper punks back in the day! But we will be considering how the synth rigs will look, again we’d like to pay homage to way that it all worked. As well as playing both vinyl albums in order in their entirety, with the CD versions, there were various bonus tracks so some of those will be included in the extended encore.
When ‘Reproduction’ was released in Autumn 1979, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had something of a strange back catalogue comprising of ‘Being Boiled’, ‘The Dignity Of Labour’ and ‘I Don’t Depend On You’ as THE MEN?
Conceptually after we signed to Virgin Records, we wanted to stamp our authority because we were concerned about losing our independent status. So the first thing we did after ‘Being Boiled’ on Fast Product was ‘The Dignity Of Labour’, a completely instrumental 12 inch EP, to show our fans that we had not abandoned our principles.
The other side of the coin was that we were obsessed with disco music and we wanted to prove that with the right resources, we could create a disco song under a different name, so that it didn’t alter people’s perception of the band. I mean, we liked these side project things like Arnold Corns with Bowie. Also, our favourite bands like ROXY MUSIC did singles that were not part of an album, like ‘Pyjamarama’, that kind of artistic f**k you. That was the rationale behind ‘I Don’t Depend On You’, but ironically, looking back on it now, it’s pretty much the template for how HEAVEN 17 went.
As has been indicated by ‘The Golden Hour Of the Future’, there was a lot of material already written, but ‘Reproduction’ had completely new material apart from ‘Circus Of Death’?
We were performing live before we were signed, so ‘Reproduction’ was basically our live set. Virgin insisted we came down to London to record at The Townhouse which I wasn’t entirely sure was a good idea and it proved to be the case. I like the album but the production knocked the stuffing out of it.
Despite having a number of great songs, ‘Reproduction’ does sound a bit cloudy, what was your working relationship like with its producer Colin Thurston?
Colin Thurston was a lovely guy, we were just inexperienced. We were in awe of this amazing studio and the technology, he’d just done Bowie and Iggy Pop so he was a hot rising producer who went on to do DURAN DURAN… we just found him to be a bit white bread. Our live shows were quite punky… it sounds weird but we saw ourselves as synth-punk, we liked the raucousness and distortion of our sound.
But he rinsed that all out and made us sound like a f**king chamber orchestra! When the album was properly mastered in 2003, it sounded much much better. The opening track ‘Almost Medieval’ was meant to be a shock to the system, it was meant to sound punky, angular and aggressive but on the album, it was nicely produced but sounded a bit polite.
‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ benefitted from that approach to production but what we lost on ‘Reproduction’ was that hard edge, that dichotomy of the angry man punk thing and the softness, it sounded like defeat.
But ‘Almost Medieval’ does still sound quite blistering…
You should have heard it in the studio, it was unbelievable! We’d never worked on giant speakers before like they had in The Townhouse, so they were blasting all this stuff at us and we didn’t know how it would sound in the final mastered version, it didn’t really punch through on any format, which was sad.
What was your synth armoury at this point?
Not very much actually, it was Roland System 100, Korg 700s, Roland Jupiter 4. Ian had a Korg 770.
Those metallic System 100 sounds for the rhythmic backbone were quite unique; but had you considered acquiring a drum machine like the Roland CR78 Compurhythm?
I was never really interested in that because we knew the uniqueness of the hardware sequencers that were attached to the System 100. We could drive everything off the CV / Gate and the timing was super perfect, we could have whatever sound we wanted on the end of those triggers. So it was more interesting to design your own sounds from scratch rather than use a drum machine. My attitude changed about that when the Linn Drum came out in 1981.
Were you sticking to the “synthesizers and vocals only” rule?
Probably, we were very careful to keep the ingredients pure in the dishes we were creating.
Had there been a bone of contention with Virgin about your choice of rhythm template?
No, we never allowed any interference, one of our conditions in signing to Virgin was they let us get on with stuff. They were definitely discouraged from being privy to the creative process. They had the right to pass comment once the tracks were complete and to make their suggestions for alternations, but we saw ourselves as pioneers and we didn’t want any blanding out of that. We learnt from doing ‘Reproduction’ that we had to do that throughout the delivery chain or it can easily go tits up! So for ‘Travelogue’, we insisted on mixing and mastering our own stuff.
Despite its steadier pace, ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’ was quite aggressive, what had it been inspired by?
It was a rallying call to rebel against conformity. Both Phil and myself went to grammar school, the top state school in Sheffield, so we were surrounded by a lot of people who wanted to be professionals, lawyers and all that stuff… my parents were poor. So Phil and I being rebellious types were calling for ‘The Path Of Least Resistance’.
So was ‘Blind Youth’ a follow on from that theme?
Kind of… although there was a thread that we wanted to give people hope and optimism, because that’s how we felt. But in the punk scene at that time, it was getting quite trendy in Manchester in particular for the miserable end of things to be proliferated. And that carried on for quite a long time.
I always felt that Sheffield had more in common with somewhere like Liverpool that Manchester. We used to play at The Factory and they were all too cool for school, it was all 40s raincoats and dark glasses with nobody applauding at the end of numbers.
So we were a bit wound up by that kind of stuff because we were battle hardened live performers by this time, we’d toured with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, PERE UBU and THE STRANGLERS! Our creds were up there! We knew what we were doing live. We wanted people to have a positive view on life, if there was a nascent anger in that, then that was to rattle people out of their comfort zones.
‘Empire State Human’ should have been a huge hit as songs like ‘Are Friends Electric?’ and ‘No1 Song In Heaven’ had charted quite high, any thoughts in hindsight as to why that might not have happened?
I just think everything we did at that time sounded alien and we wanted that, but we believed in our own ability to make that work and we liked it. We were encouraged by the record company and although it was still within our parameters, we honestly thought that we had made a hit.
So we basically wrote a nursery rhyme tune and made it quite fantastic in the literal sense of the word and Phil to his eternal credit, came up with words that were absolutely brilliant. The backing track is just great, but it was the classic right song at the wrong time!
‘Morale’ was very minimal and emotive, how did you come up with that icy arpeggio?
I’d literally just bought a Jupiter 4 and was obsessed with the arpeggiation feature, we were doing a lot of stuff with that. We’d had arpeggiation before with Jean-Michel Jarre and the more experimental set-ups with the Moog Modular in music, but there was something about the sounds on the Jupiter 4 that made all that work for me which were quite Japanese. It sounded more alien than the Moog stuff, which is kind of why we never got into American synthesizers. I always thought Roland and Korg stuff sounded more Science Fiction. It was also the first synth that I know of that had an arpeggiation feature that was really useful, plus it had memories so that you could store patches.
What inspired the stark arrangement for ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’?
In reality, we wanted to write film soundtracks but nobody wanted to employ us, so we decided to make them into songs instead. ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ has always been one of my favourite things with that atmospheric and moody production of Phil Spector. If you look at the lyrics, it’s more about the desolation you feel when someone who you love leaves your life. I was thinking, it could even stress it’s a bit like dying and is not necessarily about the break-up of a relationship, although that is what the lyrics are about.
It’s that empty feeling, so we thought let’s embody this in as minimalist a way we could whilst maintaining that beautiful ring modulated tick-tock rhythm that Ian Marsh designed, it was very inspiring to work with that. Of course, Phil sang it beautifully and I didn’t do too bad either.
In The Electricity Club’s opinion, ‘Reproduction’ perhaps loses momentum with the closing two tracks ‘Austerity / Girl One’ and ‘Zero As A Limit’, any thoughts on that?
I like ‘Austerity / Girl One’ and again, it’s more like that filmic thing. ‘Zero As A Limit’ was always the track we finished our live show with; we had this idea of doing a track that accelerated towards the end and that was the climax of our show. Again, going back to what we talked about earlier, the contrast between the edginess and the live feel with the glacial emptiness is missing because the mixing and mastered didn’t accommodate it. So the way we conceptualised it in the sequence, it felt a bit like a damp squib on the record.
Released in May 1980, ‘Travelogue’ made a big leap in dynamics, how had the sound expanded, was it down to acquiring more sophisticated equipment?
By this time, we got our own studio and eight track recording machine, so had a form of multitrack although there were only six tracks working to be honest.
We had our own mixing desk which was a live desk that was very good value compared to the very expensive Neves and such like. The trade-off was that the components they used weren’t so brilliant but we liked the grunginess of it.
So when you overloaded a channel, it would have a harmonic distortion which gave a certain grit to the synthesizers. We also had things like a harmonizer, spring reverb, tape delays and all that stuff, so we were on a fast track course in learning how to line up tape machines, master to the optimum level with the right compression in the mix, how to edit a track physically. It all came together on ‘Travelogue’ and enabled us to make a much more dynamic and complex sound. I was using the Jupiter 4 and still using the Korg.
‘The Black Hit Of Space’ was one hell of an opener, what with those out there Sci-Fi lyrics and harsh screeching frequencies from overdriving the desk…
…that’s exactly what it was. All that was a reaction to the cleanness of the previous album so we overcompensated. We were also experimenting with guitar pedals, there were no real pedals designed for keyboards at that time, so we were just breaking the rules really but nothing sounded as good as overloading the desk. So that thing that sounds like a fuzz guitar is actually a keyboard, you can’t get that through traditional or even digital methods nowadays, it wouldn’t sound like that.
We fell in love with the notion of distorted and overdriven stuff, which if you at the development of synth music through the 80s and 90s, ORBITAL and THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS must have heard what THE HUMAN LEAGUE were doing and loved that sound palette that we had on ‘The Black Hit Of Space’, but the tools were available to do it by then.
The lyrics to ‘Crow & A Baby’ were quite vicious, what were they actually referring to?
Phil just turned up with them one day and we loved them. Part of the thing we did with lyrics historically was not to explain everything and leave room for interpretation by the listeners. The way I read ‘Crow & A Baby’ although Phil never confirmed this to me, is I knew Phil had a difficult relationship with his father at the time, possibly always had, because he was always working… I don’t think I even met him and I was Phil’s best friend for four years! I think he felt a little bit angry about that and this song was a metaphorical journey through his anger, in a dark Burton-esque way, it’s quite gothic.
‘Life Kills’ was very observational; in those days, THE HUMAN LEAGUE did some quite out-of-the-box story telling…
It was fundamentally influenced by literature, films and TV as much as other people’s music. I’d go as far as to say we tried to avoid anything that sounded similar to us apart from KRAFTWERK. We wanted to tell stories and have a narrative, so you are what you eat, and what we were eating at that time was Science Fiction novels like JG Ballard, that sort of stuff was an influence.
‘Dreams Of Leaving’ was a magnificent example of prog synth…
We always loved prog rock, but it was a catch all term for a wide variety of imaginative songwriting. The one thing about punk was they tried to rip up everything, talk about the baby being thrown out with the bath water! I thought it was ridiculous, all these great musicians and narrative writers fell so far out of fashion. We were into disco and keeping the notion of musical conceptual art alive.
‘Dreams Of Leaving’ tells of the escape of activists from the Apartheid regime in South Africa, had it been based on a true story?
To be honest, you’d have to ask Phil about that. My interpretation was that it was a powerful metaphor that was as much about leaving home and leaving the warmth of the family.
But I tell you why I love this song, the magic of the music is the alignment of sad, happy, fast, slow… it creates a sense of emotional response, there’s a blinding optimism at the end that is so uplifting.
Is that the sweeping polyphonic flute climax from the Jupiter 4?
Yes! One of the things influencing this was we were told right from the outset that you can’t make emotional music on a synthesizer, so we were determined to prove people wrong.
The ‘Holiday 80’ EP produced by John Leckie floats in as part of the ‘Travelogue’ story, had it been intended to record a bunch of material that was not on the album?
I wasn’t really aware of this at the time, but there was a tension emanating from the record company to Bob Last that we need a hit quick because they were in a hole on the project.
Bear in mind then that you would have to pay quite a lot of money to get on a support bill with a big act, so we were unrecouped.
While we were still darlings of the press and everybody thought we were influential, we weren’t actually having any hits in the singles chart even though the ‘Reproduction’ album had been doing alright.
So ‘Holiday 80’ was our “go for the jugular, we threw everything at it. We did an EP with some cover versions that people loved so they couldn’t argue there was nothing commercial on it even if they didn’t like our new songs… we wrote our best ever song in ‘Marianne’ etc.
We pushed the boat out on the packaging with a gatefold double single and Virgin even bribed somebody to get us on ‘Top Of the Pops’ with ‘Rock N Roll’, we were only like at No75 so it was unheard of! I think the plugger gave them exclusive rights to one of the bigger artists if they would give THE HUMAN LEAGUE a break, and fortunately ‘Top Of The Pops’ liked us so they put us on, but even that didn’t work!
Looking back on it, that’s when the record company and Bob Last started their scheming behind the scenes to split the group up…
THE HUMAN LEAGUE were on the same May 1980 episode that OMD were on with ‘Messages’; you did ‘Rock N Roll’ but ‘Holiday 80’ went down the charts while OMD got into the Top20…
I have to tell you, I LOATHED that song! I thought it was banal and the sounds were horrible, the synthesizers sounded cheap, the rhythm track sounded like it was preset and I honestly didn’t like the way Andy McCluskey sang, but what do I know? It was probably jealousy!
I can see why it was successful now because it was very catchy! But it was like a kick in the teeth for us, as was Gary Numan! Secretly, we knew they were both better at stooping low enough to appeal to the mass market, we were being a bit snobby to be honest! We wanted to be successful on our own terms, so we weren’t willing to do what was necessary in reality, looking back on it now.
In hindsight, do you think it would have been different if you’d had done ‘Being Boiled’ or ‘Marianne’?
It’s a very good question, I have no idea! I know that we wanted to do ‘Marianne’, but Virgin insisted we did ‘Rock N Roll’. It was probably the first time that we disagreed!
What had been the thinking behind re-recording ‘Being Boiled’?
That was my idea because the original concept was to do an epic PARLIAMENT / FUNKADELIC soundtrack and chuck the kitchen sink at it, and that’s what the ‘Holiday 80’ version was, and I still prefer this second version personally.
Was it pressure from Virgin to put it on ‘Travelogue’ as it’s the only track on ‘Travelogue’ not co-produced by Richard Manwaring?
Yes, but we were happy for it to be included.
You were having fun with other cover versions too like ‘Gordon’s Gin’ and these days, a lot of people think you wrote ‘Only After Dark’?
We were big fans of Mick Ronson solo. We liked the potential for vocal arrangements, and in a way, this was like a prototype model for future HEAVEN 17 stuff. By this point, we were getting to better vocal arrangements, ‘Marianne’ was like three part counterpoint and multiple harmonies, we were just learning stuff and using this new knowledge. ‘Only After Dark’ is a very simple song at its heart, and we wanted to pull focus on vocals over a minimal arrangement.
Had ‘Only After Dark’ been pencilled in as a single in its own right or was it always just a free bonus for the reissue of ‘Empire State Human’?
No, it wasn’t, the free bonus was another attempt to have a hit which kind of half worked but didn’t. We were proud of all these things by the way, I never equated sales to success, it was a record company thing.
‘WXJL Tonight’ is very Neil Diamond and the line “automatic stations came” all but predicted the Spotify playlist??
I don’t know about that but we were always avid readers of ‘New Scientist’, ‘Newsweek’ and ‘Time’, to find out what was happening in society. We read an article about automatic playlist capabilities and a bit like in ‘Black Mirror’ thought “What happens if together with Artificial Intelligence, that future radio stations become sentient?”, so a bit like Hal 9000 in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ begging the astronaut not to switch it off.
You’ve mentioned that you will remain faithful to the spirit of the originals with the show… how is the programming coming along to reproduce the sounds and sequence the backing tracks?
We haven’t started anything yet? Are you joking? It’s miles away! In reality, we won’t get into it until after Christmas. We’re dabbling with a few arrangements now but the point is, we’re starting from the idea that we’re going to us the original synths where possible.
So we will have to buy or rent or borrow a Jupiter 4. I’ll be using the System 100 together with the Korg 700s. But we will be making some changes, like some of the arrangements a little bit because the girls are going to be singing, although they won’t be on stage all of the time. You’ll know when it’s meant to sound authentic.
So this showcase will be Sheffield City Hall and London Roundhouse only?
It’s definitely not to be missed! Because I literally have no idea how many of these shows we are going to do. We’d like to do some more UK dates plus if anyone in Germany, Sweden, the US or anywhere who has the means would like to book us as there is a significant set design, please get in touch with me.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Martyn Ware
HEAVEN 17 presents the ‘Reproduction’ + ‘Travelogue’: 40th Anniversary Celebration at Sheffield City Hall on Monday 14th September 2020 + London Roundhouse on Tuesday 15th September 2020
HEAVEN 17 started as a pop subsidiary of BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION, a production company signed to Virgin Records formed after Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh left THE HUMAN LEAGUE in 1980.
With Glenn Gregory as lead singer, the trio eventually became almost as successful as their former sparring partners Philip Oakey and Adrian Wright who had recruited Ian Burden, Jo Callis, Susanne Sulley and Joanne Catherall to score a chart topper in ‘Don’t You Want Me’ on both sides of the Atlantic.
THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a huge selling hit album as well in ‘Dare’, for which Ware and Marsh received a small royalty as part of the original divorce settlement. Whereas at the time, THE HUMAN LEAGUE had a purer synthesizer vision, Ware had been keen to incorporate his love of soul and disco into proceedings.
“We wanted a little distance between what THE HUMAN LEAGUE had been and probably were still going to be, and what HEAVEN 17 were about to become..” remembered Glenn Gregory, “The balance in any group is obviously changed when anyone leaves or joins… things were naturally heading in a different direction just by the very fact that the dynamic of the group had changed, I suppose the real turning point was when we had written ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ (only about ten days after THE HUMAN LEAGUE had split) and Martyn had suggested we put a bass guitar solo in the middle breakdown…”
Featuring young Sheffield bassist John Wilson who also turned out to be a master on rhythm guitar and powered by Simmons SDS-V drums, ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ was a salvo of urgent electronic funk that won the support of the serious music press, but got a ban from the BBC due to its Ronald Reagan baiting lyrics and warnings about the resurgence of extreme right wing ideology. It only fired the trio up even more!
The resultant ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ album was released in Autumn 1981. It was a landmark achievement, cleverly combining electronics with pop hooks and funky disco sounds while adding witty social and political commentary. It fell into two halves, the ‘Penthouse’ side being more electronic avant pop like an extension of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Travelogue’ while the other ‘Pavement’ side was aided and abetted by a game changing piece of digital technology; “The Linn Drum became within a day, the new direction” recalled Martyn Ware, “that and discovering John Wilson were the two things that defined ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.”
In a mood of buoyant optimism, ‘Play To Win’ celebrated aspiration, while the title song with its blistering burst of guitar synth by Wilson wittily captured the greed of yuppie culture during the Thatcher era. But on the other side of the coin, ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ and ‘Height Of The Fighting’ reflected The Cold War and the horrifying spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction. The album fittingly ended with ‘We’re Going To Live For A Very Long Time’, a humourous ode to the dangers of religious fundamentalism that had a connected end groove on its original vinyl to ensure it went on for infinity…
With electronic music technology becoming more sophisticated while affordable and user friendly, Ware upped the ante with its production values; “We’d moved on by then to programming using the Roland MC4 Microcomposer so there was a lot of numeric programming on that album.” he said, “That drove my System 100 and Ian’s System 100M. The original demos are really just the programmed parts which then got layered over with real instruments.”
Securing the talents of notable session musicians such as Ray Russell, Simon Phillips and Nick Plytas as well as retaining John Wilson, ‘The Luxury Gap’ had a glossy sheen which combined synthesizer programming and digital drum computers with orchestrations, brass, jazz piano, rhythm guitar and guitar synths.
The first single ‘Let Me Go’ with one of the first uses of the Roland TB303 Bass Line sequencer was a striking slice of art funk, offset by deep delayed thrusts of Jupiter 8 but again failed to be a Top40 hit.
Interestingly, its recording had concocted a few conundrums in the studio. “When we finished ‘Let Me Go’” remembered Gregory, “we realised we’d lost the original beauty of the demo so we did it again…so basically, ‘The Best Kept Secret’ is ‘Let Me Go’ but redone with an orchestra. So we got two songs out of it.”
More obviously pop oriented than its predecessor ‘The Luxury Gap’ hosted two international hits. ‘Temptation’ was euphoric soul fusion of epic proportions utilising strings and the voice of Carol Kenyon. “Martyn had the idea for the Motown backbeat but it’s still very electronic really… there was this part that built and we decided to try an orchestra.” Gregory explained, “So we were in the studio with this massive orchestra and it was like ‘oh my god’, it was amazing because it was so different. It was a complete game changer.”
Meanwhile ‘Come Live With Me’ was a heartfelt cinematic ballad with no instrumental break which was delivered so sincerely, that it veiled its origins as an inter-band joke. “I was at that time I wrote it, seeing a young girl and I was getting a few jibes” recollected the HEAVEN 17 front man, “The words were making us laugh! It was all messing around! That’s where it all came from and we were quite surprised we’d written quite a beautiful song by the end of it because we were laughing like mad.”
‘Crushed By The Wheels Of Industry’, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’ and ‘Key To The World’ pointedly explored the themes of ‘The Luxury Gap’ and maintained HEAVEN 17’s socio-political consciousness despite their entry into the mainstream. But there were other highlights; ‘Lady Ice & Mr Hex’ provided a weird fusion of jazz piano, polyrhythmics, Linn Drum and acid squelches while the frantic energy of ‘We Live So Fast’ presented what it said on the tin.
Success brought money and this was reflected in Autumn 1984 with the Fairlighted jamboree of third album ‘How Men Are’.
“The operational reasons for moving to the Fairlight were that Ian had bought one without asking anyone and with his own money… £40,000!” affirmed HEAVEN 17’s musical director of their newly accquired workstation, “I was going ‘Are you sure about this Ian?’, it seemed a little extreme but he was keen”.
The results were mixed and the many options provided by the computer from Sydney, Australia led to the start of HEAVEN 17’s artistic confusion. But without doubt, ‘Five Minutes To Midnight’ was an outstanding opener. Referencing The Doomsday Clock and following on from ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ to highlight the absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction, it used and abused the Fairlight, throwing in ‘Protect and Survive’ styled civil defence announcements, deathly whoops and a doomy orchestral crescendo bringing a frightening finality to proceedings…
“I’m a big fan of ‘How Men Are’ looking back on it” said Ware, “I think it’s an underrated album and that was when we were probably in our most daring and creative phase.” That daring creativity manifested itself on the sub-ten minute closer ‘And That’s No Lie’, an ambitious adventure in sound that threw in everything from abstract sonic experiments, jazz piano, Fairlight samples, gospel voices and an orchestra, plus some excellent live bass and guitar work from John Wilson and Ray Russell respectively.
Although there were hits in ‘Sunset Now’ and ‘This Is Mine’, these singles highlighted that with the exception of ‘Flamedown’, the ‘How Men Are’ album material was not ultimately as strong as it had been on ‘The Luxury Gap’. One case in point was ‘The Skin I’m In’, an insipid ballad in the vein of SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘True’ although it was partly saved by a plucky acoustic guitar solo created using a Roland System 100!
But the world was changing. Synthpop was falling out of fashion and while potentially there was still success to be had across the Atlantic with the advent of MTV, thanks to the unexpected success of SIMPLE MINDS, British acts were under pressure make themselves more palatable to American audiences.
“So consequently when it came to making ‘Pleasure One’, we’d lost our confidence a bit because it felt like we were slipping.” Ware recalled, “So we started employing more session players and moving towards a more traditional rock sound. And that wasn’t a deliberate decision. We lost confidence not in our songwriting but in the sound that we had, so it like really lost a bit of identity… We wanted to move on but there wasn’t anywhere to move on to from a sound point of view.”
But to be fair, a good number of acts from the school of Synth Britannia like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, ULTRAVOX and BLANCMANGE were having something of an existential crisis and even those who had tasted major success in the US like DURAN DURAN were falling apart.
Released in Autumn 1986, the conventionally band driven ‘Pleasure One’ which also saw the return of Carol Kenyon was given a lukewarm reception. Highlights included the groovy call for world unity ‘Contenders’ and the LEVEL 42 aping ‘Trouble’, while ‘If I Were You’ brought in an unexpected influence from THE BEATLES. But overall, HEAVEN 17 had lost momentum.
Ware’s success as a producer for acts like Tina Turner and Terence Trent D’Arby was perhaps placing his artistic focus elsewhere, but when Glenn Gregory appeared on the album cover of 1988’s ‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots, the writing was on the wall.
“‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ was the nail in the coffin; we’d completely lost our way by then as far as I was concerned! We were retreading some ideas and some of the things we were doing were not working. I think we all knew it had run its course at that point” lamented Ware, “But ironically, it wasn’t that we’d run out of musical ideas, it was just that vehicle because at that time, I was doing Terence Trent D’Arby album which showed myself, Glenn and Ian that we’d still got creative ideas but we’d lost focus on what HEAVEN 17 should be at that point.”
‘Teddy Bear, Duke & Psycho’ were the affectionate nicknames given by Terence Trent D’Arby respectively to Ware, Gregory and Marsh, but the album possessed none of the enthusiasm or spirit of the former GI who Ware had been working with on ‘Introducing The Hardline According To…’. ‘The Ballad Of Go Go Brown’ was the cue for some fans to exit, although ‘Train Of Love In Motion’ was a better single. Meanwhile ‘Big Square People’ was as good as some of blue eyed soul of the times.
But with mainstream audiences finding younger acts such as WET WET WET, HUE & CRY and JOHNNY HATES JAZZ more to their liking, HEAVEN 17 effectively went on hiatus between 1989 to 1995, although a dance enhanced Brothers In Rhythm remix of ‘Temptation’ became a surprise UK Top5 hit in 1992.
Then in 1996, the trio reunited to re-explore their electronic roots with a new album ‘Bigger Than America’ and in 1997 toured as the opening act for ERASURE whose 1993 album ‘I Say I Say I Say’ had been produced by Ware.
Although there has only been one further album ‘Before / After’ in 2005 and the departure of Ian Craig Marsh not long after, HEAVEN 17 have been regulars on the live circuit since 2008, often showcasing ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and ‘The Luxury Gap’ in full where their political commentary still remains sadly relevant in the modern world.
‘Play To Win – The Virgin Years’ captures the glorious imperial phase of HEAVEN 17 and the developmental pace of music technology through these five albums. Featuring a 36 booklet with new interviews and archive photos, the CD version is particularly desirable with its plethora of extended mixes, radio edits, instrumentals and non-album tracks such as the standalone single ‘I’m Your Money’ and its B-side ‘Are Everything’ plus the brilliant and very different demo version of ‘Temptation’ which took its lead from SOFT CELL’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’.
Gregory, Ware and Marsh’s ultimate legacy is being able to use music to deliver socio-political statements with good tunes and a sense of humour while also applying a juxtaposition of programmed technology with live musicians to provide a unique sound for the times.
“Some things will always be relevant” summarised Gregory, “We wrote about subjects that touched our lives and our souls, things that mattered not just to us as individuals but also to us as a part of a political or social system. We never preached and always (I hope) ranted with wit and humour”.
As the band once stated during their 1996 return: “TRUST US – WE’RE ENTERTAINERS”.
HEAVEN 17 will be opening for SQUEEZE on their 2019 tour, dates include:
Scunthorpe Baths Hall (17th October), Sheffield City Hall (18th October), Gateshead Sage (19th October), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (21st October), Leicester De Montfort Hall (22nd October), Birmingham Symphony Hall (23rd October), Oxford New Theatre (25th October), Brighton Centre (26th October), Southend Cliffs Pavilion (27th October), London Royal Albert Hall (29th October), Bath Forum(30th October), Hull City Hall (1st November), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (2nd November), Manchester Salford Quays The Lowry (3rd November), Northampton Derngate (5th November), Guildford G Live (6th November), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (9th November), Bournemouth Pavilion (11th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (12th November), Cardiff St David’s Hall (13th November), Llandudno Venue Cymru (15th November), Harrogate Convention Centre (16th November), Reading Hexagon (17th November), Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall (19th November), Ipswich Regent (20th November)
As long as there has been a music business, artists and producers have been forever tinkering with their work.
While often, it’s the single version made for mass consumption through radio play that remains superior and best loved, there are occasions when the album take reigns supreme.
Often there’s a track that is the obvious standout on the long player, but sometimes it can be of a structure that is considered too long for peak time radio where instant gratification is the key. On other occasions, the vision of the track for album consumption is reconsidered following an earlier short form release produced on a more limited budget.
So as a companion list to the earlier 25 Single Versions That Are Better Than The Album Versions listings feature and restricted to one track per artist, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Album Versions That Are Better Than The Single Versions presented in chronological and then alphabetical order…
GIORGIO From Here To Eternity (1977)
Despite being a hit single, ‘From Here To Eternity’ was actually something of a disjointed disco medley, throwing in a section of the album track ‘Utopia – Me Giorgio’ halfway through. The full six minute ‘From Here To Eternity’ from the long player of the same name was a futuristic slice of electronic dance perfection, with Giorgio Moroder steadily building on his throbbing synth backbone and layers of vocoder punctuated by the steady beats of drummer Keith Forsey.
The original Fast Product single version of ‘Being Boiled’ from 1978 had its own charm, recorded as mono demo which was subsequently released. However, having signed to Virgin Records and with a budget behind them, Messrs Marsh, Oakey and Ware took the opportunity to update their calling card with producer John Leckie for the ‘Travelogue’ album to more fully realise its funky overtones inspired by FUNKADELIC. The end result was fuller and more dynamic.
Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records
‘Ghosts’ had been an unexpected singles success for JAPAN in 1982 and Virgin Records wanted more of the same with ‘Nightporter’, despite it being already two years old and with the previously unreleased song ‘Some Kind Of Fool’ in the vaults. Trimming the solemn seven minute ivory laden Satie homage was always going to be difficult and the horrific radio edit butchered out the lengthy if vital instrumental climax of melancholic Oberheim OBX strings. Less really does mean less…
The album version of ‘I Travel’ was only four minutes in the first place, yet original label Arista Records felt the need to chop the track on both single edits it released and neuter its impact. SIMPLE MINDS never fully realised their potential until they signed to Virgin Records and ‘I Travel’ heralded a futuristic art rock phase where the band’s Germanic influences, coupled to synthesized disco aesthetics of Giorgio Moroder, found favour at clubs like The Blitz.
Whether ‘Autobahn’, ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Showroom Dummies’, ‘Trans-Europe Express’, ‘Neon Lights’ or ‘The Robots’, the sheer average length of a KRAFTWERK track made them difficult to apply to the single format and ‘Computer Love’ was no different. A beautifully melodic piece that predicted internet dating and stretched to just under seven minutes with its glorious second half synth solo in its album version, it was like the reel of the film was missing in its edited form.
A UK Top 20 single for BLANCMANGE in 1983, ‘Waves’ was remixed and given an orchestral treatment arranged by Linton Naiff, but it strangely detracted from the bare emotion of the song. Sounding like Scott Walker fronting OMD, with a more basic synthesized construction and a sombre detuned brass line allowed to breathe at the song’s conclusion, the album version sans orchestra was much better. However, the original cut has yet to be reinstated on reissues of the parent long player ‘Happy Families’.
Originally recorded for a 1980 single on Mute Records in more of a band format featuring guitar and hand-played synths, ‘Kebab Träume’ was subsequently reworked by DAF in a more superior fashion under the production supervision of the legendary Conny Plank for their third and final Virgin-era long player ‘Für Immer’. Transforming into something much heavier, the memorable if controversial line “Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei!” had more bite on this album version also issued as a single.
Sweden’s LUSTANS LAKEJER came to international attention when their third long player ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri of JAPAN. With its synthesized atmospheres and art funk aspirations not that far off DURAN DURAN, ‘Läppar Tiger, Ögon Talar’ was one of the album’s highlights. But for the later single version produced by Kai Erixon, the band opted for a more laid back swing arrangement punctuated by a brass section, which frankly was not as good as the original.
The single version of ‘We Take Mystery’ which was Gary Numan’s last UK Top 10 hit was too short and the extended 12 inch version was too long, which left the album version from ‘I, Assassin’ as the best take of the song. With its crashing Linn Drum snap and fretless bass with live percussion syncopating on top, this was a dancefloor friendly excursion which concluded with a marvellous additional rhythm guitar breakdown from fretless bassist Pino Palladino.
Available on the GARY NUMAN album ‘I, Assassin’ via Beggars Banquet
Remixed by John Luongo for single release, ‘The Anvil’ ended up as a B-side but while the sound of metal-on-metal was added, it somehow had less presence than the original album version. Possessing far Teutonic tension with some superb guitar work from Midge Ure, metronomic drumming courtesy of Rusty Egan minus his hi-hats, Billy Currie’s superb screaming ARP Odyssey and Dave Formula’s brassy synth riff completed Steve Strange’s tale of debauchery for one of the best ever VISAGE tracks.
Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Cherry Pop
By 1982, John Foxx has rediscovered his love of early PINK FLOYD, THE BEATLES and psychedelia which manifested itself in ‘Endlessy’. Based around a tom heavy Linn Drum programme, deep cello samples and sitars, it was an interesting if messy experimental romp. Come his third album ‘The Golden Section’ recorded under the helm of producer Zeus B Held, the new version, also released as a revisionist single, was much more focussed with an accessible uptempo electronic euphoria.
A sub-ten minute progressive epic was never going to work as an edited single and with ‘And That’s No Lie’, that’s exactly what happened. The original album version was HEAVEN 17’s ambitious adventure in sound and fusion that threw in everything from abstract sonic experiments, jazz piano, Fairlight samples, the gospel voices of ARFRODIZIAK and an orchestra, plus some excellent live bass and guitar work from John Wilson and Ray Russell respectively.
Available on the HEAVEN 17 album ‘How Men Are’ via Virgin Records
ARCADIA was Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor’s attempt to be JAPAN during the DURAN DURAN artistic hiatus, but many of the songs from the short-lived side project were smothered in a pond of self-indulgence. One of the highlights though was ‘The Flame’, basically ‘A View To A Kill Part 2’. However for its single release, a neo-acapella intro was applied rather than the frantic percussive beginning of the album version which robbed the song of its tension and impact.
Having got DIVINE into the UK charts, Stock Aitken & Waterman gave the same treatment to DEAD OR ALIVE, scoring a No1 with ‘You Spin Me Round’. The resultant album ‘Youthquake’ had a number of excellent tracks including ‘My Heart Goes Bang’ which was ripe single material. But the single remix by regular PWL associate Phil Harding was horrible, throwing in the kitchen sink with voice cut-ups and an overdriven rhythm section which drowned out any merits the song originally had.
Available on the DEAD OR ALIVE album ‘Youthquake’ via Sony Music
Inspired by a News Of The World headline, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ is one of the best loved NEW ORDER tunes. The rugged self-produced original version that appeared on the ‘Brotherhood’ album was a glorious electronic number with a slight mechanical offbeat and space for Hooky’s distinctive bass. But the version released for 45 RPM consumption was a frustrating, four-to-the-floor remix by Shep Pettibone which took all the character out of the song with a barrage of overdriven percussive samples.
Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Brotherhood’ via Warner Music
Although ‘Living In Another World’ was the best song on ‘The Colour Of Spring’, it was always going to be a tall order to successfully cut its seven minutes in half for single consumption! A fine progressive combination of synthetic strings, piano, Hammond organ, hypnotic bass, acoustic and electric guitars, percolating percussion and harmonica, the TALK TALK sound would have been nothing however without the anguished vocals of Mark Hollis and the production skills of Tim Friese-Greene.
German trio CAMOUFLAGE had a hit with ‘The Great Commandment’ all over the world including the US, with only Britain remaining ambivalent to their industrial flavoured synthpop. As with many singles of the period, it clocked in at just over three minutes but sounded rushed. Come the debut album ’Voices & Images’ and ‘The Great Commandment’ was more fully realised, allowing space to prevail in the one of the best DEPECHE MODE tracks that the Basildon boys never recorded.
Enigmatic Glaswegian trio THE BLUE NILE were never an easy sell to the wider marketplace and the Bob Clearmountain single remix of ‘Headlights On The Parade’ was hopeless, with over a third of the emotively atmospheric number absent for the sake of radio play. The centrepiece of the brilliant ‘Hats’ album, its haunting piano, swaths of synths and a collage of modulated sequences needed a full six minutes to truly convey its solemn drive and rainy cinematic melodrama.
Available on THE BLUE NILE album ‘Hats’ via Epstein Records
Subsonically remixed by Andrew Weatherall with a distinct chilled-out flavour and an additional vocal from Sacha Souter for single release, the brilliant album version of ‘Floatation’ had a more rigid KRAFTWERK feel echoing elements of ‘Tour De France’. And as the track drew towards the home straight, Julian Stringle’s clarinet brought to mind the aesthetics of Dave Ball’s previous residency in SOFT CELL. But while those woodwind textures were present in the single, they were less effective overall.
Partly inspired by a quote about Zelda Fitzgerald, novelist and wife of author F Scott Fitzgerald which stated “she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn’t boring”, ‘Being Boring’ is one of PET SHOP BOYS’ best songs, reflecting on Neil Tennant’s youth and the loss of a friend who died of AIDS. While the single itself was almost five minutes long, the superior album version featured a fabulous intro that steadily built with a lilting synth bassline and wah-wah guitar that made the most of the song’s elegiac aura.
Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Behaviour’ via EMI Records
A tedious rockist statement by DEPECHE MODE when reworked by Butch Vig for single release, the lengthy original album version of ‘In Your Room’ was widescreen magnificence with a tense percussive drive courtesy of Alan Wilder who only played what was needed, adding a second simplistic drum passage in the final half for extra weight. A fine example of how feel is more important technique, current DM drumhead Christian Eigner managed to mess up his opportunity to shine on this during the ‘Global Spirit’ tour.
The second LADYTRON album ‘Light & Magic’ is probably best known for its lead single ‘Seventeen’, but opening its second half was the brilliantly propulsive ‘Evil’. An obvious single, when remixed by noted dance producer Ewan Pearson, it was filled out with extra string synths and made more contemporary. This lost the track its appealing spatial dynamics and grunt while the way in which the vocals of Helen Marnie were mixed more than muted her charm.
ARTHUR & MARTHA were Adam Cresswell and Alice Hubley; their debut single ‘Autovia’ was the first release on Happy Robots Records in 2008 but when it came to recording the album ‘Navigation’, the incessant Doctor Rhythm drum machine was given a more hypnotic Motorik makeover which ironically gave the track more drive. Meanwhile, there was an extended end section which allowed for some cosmic Theremin and synth wig-outs between the pair not unlike STEREOLAB meeting NEU!
Available on the ARTHUR & MARTHA album ‘Navigation’ via Happy Robots Records
From MESH’s best album ‘Automation Baby’, the wonderfully metronomic ‘Adjust Your Set’ with its personal relationship commentary in a technology dominated world was one of its many highlights. Given a more orchestrated remix by Nico Wieditz for the MaBose Radio-Edit with a much busier electronic bassline along the lines of ‘Enjoy The Silence’, while this single version had more obvious presence, it lacked the eerie cinematic Morricone-esque air of the album original.
‘Ocean’ was already dramatic perfection as the best track on the seventh GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’, but for the single version, it was felt a contribution from a former member of the Mute family was needed. While Devotees were wetting themselves over Dave Gahan appearing on a more obviously electronic sounding track again, his faux bluesy drawl was something of a mismatch next to the breathy angelic tones of Alison Goldfrapp. Gahan may be from Essex but he was certainly no Alison Moyet.
Available on the GOLDFRAPP album ‘Silver Eye’ via Mute Artists
‘siliconchipsuperstar’ by CIRCUIT3 slipped out quietly in December 2015 but became one of the surprise independent success stories of 2016.
The work of Dubliner Peter Fitzpatrick, it was a musical love letter to the classic era of electronic pop between 1978-1982 and like TUBEWAY ARMY’s debut long player, the blue vinyl edition sold out. Rather than go on a cruise or buy a DeLorean, he spent his royalties on more synths!
Those synths have been put to good use on ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, the new album from CIRCUIT3 due out in Spring 2019 on Diode Records.
Acting as a trailer to the album, ‘For Your Own Good’ is arguably the first Irish synthpop hip hop crossover featuring CIRCUIT 3 working with Ricki Rawness, a respected figure on the Irish urban music scene who is not your average MC…
Peter Fitzpatrick took time out to chat about his love of electronic music, his thoughts on the current fashion for Synthwave and stalking the pioneers of Synth Britannia with his Arturia MiniBrute…
It would be fair to say ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ was an unexpected success? Why do you think listeners connected with it?
It exceeded all of my expectations. Originally I just wanted to make an album that echo’d my teen years and love of that 1978-82 era of synthpop and electronic music, put it out on vinyl and create a couple of promo videos. Above all else I wanted to have some fun.
I thought I’d sell a handful of copies and get a few video views. I didn’t expect the vinyl to sell out or for my mailing list to quadruple in size or for the gigs and festivals and offers of collaboration to happen. That’s the quantitative measure of success, but for me the true success was in making the LP and sticking to my vision of what I wanted to do. On that measure alone, it was hugely successful.
Why listeners connected is something I can definitely talk about because I have the messages from them. They loved the genre and sounds I used as it reminded them of those artists that we share a love and fascination for. All art is theft and so is using motifs and sounds, but I’m ok with that. I’m a magpie.
Another recurring message from the listeners was my old school approach to physical product, making promo videos and not taking it too seriously. They really enjoyed holding the album reading the lyrics and possessing something that was theirs alone. Synthpop is not dead!
What had inspired you to do a synthpop album after many years in rock?
After a number of years playing quite happily in rock bands and earning a living as a composer and sound designer, I was caught up in this belief that nobody wanted to hear my electronic music and that there wasn’t an audience for synthpop anyway. I thought people were only listening to ‘crappy-4tothefloor-house-handbag-squelchy-303’ dance music from whatever EDM EBD ABC XYZ genre was flavour of the month. I was so incredibly wrong.
What triggered it all was when I heard that there was a KRAFTWERK tribute show in Dublin and went along to see THE ROBOTS. Supporting was the Dublin artist POLYDROID. I was blown away both by the music that night but also the crowd at the gig. I must have made a dozen new friends in the space of 3 hours. After the gig we were all talking about our favourite artists. This sounds like a stupid movie story but next day I went online and bought a keyboard controller and a softsynth package (Vintage Collection from Arturia). I started writing and in the first 2 weeks wrote ‘Blue Diary’ and ‘New Man’. I was hooked again. I remembered what I loved.
Don’t get me wrong though. I learned a huge amount when I was in rock / pop bands and made some lifelong friends. Brian Downey, THIN LIZZY’s drummer, taught me a lot about how to push and pull the beat live and of course I grilled him about Midge Ure’s time in the band. Brian is a lovely man and one of the most underrated drummers in the world.
In all that time in rock bands I learned how to structure songs and I learned about confidence when onstage – if you don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself on stage, how is the audience going to feel? Playing in those bands paid my way through university and gave me some lifelong friends. I bumped into Brian shortly after ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ came out and he was fascinated by it – kept referring to Midge and Rusty. He thought it was brilliant that Rusty had played ‘Hundred Hands’ on his show after someone had recommended it to Rusty. He knew Rusty from the early 80s and his work with Phil Lynott, Brian’s close friend and bandmate.
‘Hundred Hands’ had some wonderful drum programming…
Thank you – one review referenced Martyn Ware which is a huge compliment. There are three drum machine touchstones for me: the CR78 which John Foxx used on ‘Metamatic’, the Linn on THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ and HEAVEN 17’s ‘Penthouse & Pavement’.
I think Martyn is the funkiest lad from Sheffield ever. I have clear memory of programming that track and trying to mix between what a real drummer might do and then add some of those funky little off-beats that Martyn uses with Linn rimshots and claps, plus I used the toms like percussion instruments – something I think he has done in the past.
The not-so-secret sauce is to use some parallel compression on the drum subgroup. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I think the snare on that track is pretty dry which is unusual for me because I love a nice bit of gated reverb on my snares…. call me old fashioned….or Steve Levine…
‘Ghost Machine’ had a terrific icy synth pad, what did you use for that and how did the track come together?
Icy! That’s a lovely word to use about synths. I love icy sounds. That’s the Arturia version of the Solina string machine plus a layered sound from a Roland JP8000 and a touch of Roland Juno 106 underneath. There’s a bit of plate reverb on it too.
That track has a cracking story attached to it. Chatting online with a Facebook friend Brian McCloskey who is originally from Derry in Ireland but is now living in California, I mentioned I was making an album and he mentioned he had tried writing lyrics in the past. I rarely had success with a collaboration where a lyricist sends me their words and I write a song around them. We gave it a try and hit paydirt on the first song.
Brian runs the very wonderful blog hosting old issues of Smash Hits ‘Like Punk Never Happened’ and we have a shared love of synthpop and pop in general. Brian’s blog had garnered him credits on BBC documentaries about ‘Top Of The Pops’ plus after show party invites from Mr Gary Kemp from that there SPANDAU BALLET. He moves in all the right circles does Brian. He also has the best legs in California. Enough of that! *LAUGHS LOUDLY*
Back to the challenge in writing songs using someone else’s lyrics; I think the reason this worked is that I visualized what the promo video was going to look like. In my mind I saw ‘Metropolis’. Sure enough when I made the promo video I used that footage.
Have the two of you written anything else?
Brian and I have another song written and it’s a bit of a synthpop cracker even if I say so myself. It’s titled ‘Future Radio’ and sounds a little like the lovechild of BUGGLES and PET SHOP BOYS. I had hoped to include it on my next album but it doesn’t fit with the other tracks. I have other plans for it and can’t wait to release it. There’s a super little vocoder part in it.
Actually, Chi while I’m here and thinking about vocoders… I’m really p*ssed off with Waldorf. They announced a string machine and vocoder a year ago. It’s exactly what I want for ‘Future Radio’ and would be ideal for playing ‘Ghost Machine’ live. It’s complete Vaporware… hasn’t materialized and I’ve had it on pre-order since early 2018! I wish they wouldn’t tease like that.
I’ll bet they’re holding off because Behringer claim to be making a clone of the classic Roland VP-330. If anyone in Dublin is reading and has a proper vocoder to loan me for a day?
Was the minimal structure of ‘In Your Shoes’ influenced by anyone in particular?
Very much so – well spotted. The song was written the week that Robin Williams died. I remembered the quote attributed to him “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” and being quite affected by his illness and what must have been a tortured state of mind that he would lead him to take his own life.
The music, arrangement and production was very heavily influenced by my favourite Howard Jones song ‘Law Of The Jungle’. I think that’s one of his finest tracks and it was only a B-side! I got to ask Howard about the song in the context of a Q&A with him at Metropolis Studios in late 2018. I’d been saving that question since 1984. I do play the long game sometimes! *laughs*
My recording is almost entirely Arturia ‘Modular’ softsynth which is an emulation of the Moog modular system. One of Howard’s trademarks is hitting the occasional high note. He has a very good falsetto. Howard’s an artist who is unfairly written out of Synth Britannia and attracts snide comments. What sort of war crime did Howard commit? I’d like to see some of the people who knock him try doing what he did live with an 808, Moog Prodigy and a Jupiter8. They probably wouldn’t know the difference between a tape recorder and a drum machine anyway. I’ve never understood the nasty responses to his work.
Which songs have been your own favourites?
Off the new album ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, it’s a pure pop song called ‘I Don’t Want To Fall in Love Again’. It’ll be a single and one of the remixers said it sounded like something off the third YAZOO album that never happened. Possibly that’s the Fairlight samples I used for the rhythm track – almost PET SHOP BOYS I think.
iEUROPEAN did a great remix which I’m delighted with. It’s pure pop and isn’t pretending to be anything else. I’d love to hear this covered by a female vocalist or re-recorded by Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn from BUGGLES.
Now, if you’re talking about the first album ‘siliconchipsuperstar’, I think it’s ‘New Man’ simply because it was the first song recorded for the album and in the live shows it always gets a great response. It opened some doors for me. It’s a track that lets me stomp and play that lead line on as nasty and loud a synth patch as I can put together. On a keytar … doubly so. I love pop so who can resist an opportunity to get the crowd to do the claptrap part? Yes… I borrowed that from ‘Being Boiled’ and I don’t care who knows *laughs*
I know some radio shows have picked up on the ‘New Man’ Numan thing but it’s not about Gary honest! It’s also in C Minor, which as every synthesist knows, is the darkest of all keys.
Talking of YAZOO, how do you look back on your tribute album ‘All I Ever Knew’?
With great fondness. Anyone who knows me will know I’m a huge fan of Vince and Alison. Recording ‘Upstairs At Erics’ was something I’d wanted to do since I first heard the LP in 1982. In truth, ‘All I Ever Knew’ was pure self-indulgence. I made it for me and happened to release it on CD.
I made two decisions before starting on the project. Firstly I decided to stick pretty close to the original sounds and arrangements. Secondly, I decided to bring in some guest vocalists.
The sounds and arrangements decision was the most difficult. With infinite resources and a brave heart, I might well have tried my hand at doing completely new takes on those songs. However, I don’t think that ever really works.
Very few ‘reworkings’ of classics are ever pulled off well. Most are pure crap and don’t get me started on rubbish twee ukulele interpretations of songs I love.
I did however put a couple of little twists and sounds into the recordings but purposefully stayed close to the originals. I’m such a fan that they’re like sacred texts! *laughs*
Working with Emma Barson, Neil Francis and Andy Patchell was really enjoyable. I sent a copy to Vince and he emailed me with some very kind words. The 16 year old me was dumbstruck *laughs*
Then before her show in Dublin I managed to meet Alison and gave her a copy. In return I got a hug. That’s a fair trade I think. Before you ask… no, I have no plans to record ‘You & Me Both’. If I had the chance to do it all again then all I would change is to start it a year earlier and have a go at properly reworking some of the tracks.
The new single is ‘For Your Own Good’, you’ve really gone to town on that with a video and some radical remixes? How would you describe its genesis?
‘For Your Own Good’ is a lesson in embracing collaboration opportunities.
That track was written about 18 months ago and has sat lonely on the digital shelf waiting for me to do something with it. I was mid-recording the YAZOO tribute and had been listening to HEAVEN 17 a lot.
The bassline is Juno 106 and I’m using the Aly James emulation of the Linn LM-1 drum machine. As I looped the bassline, I grabbed a mic and riffed on the notion of privacy, or lack of! I visualized CCTV cameras and Zuckerberg sticking his nose in where it’s not wanted.
Listening to the tracks for the new album, I offered it to a couple of remixers and one of them – a local lad Goldy – created this brilliant remix which has more hip-hop than synthpop. He brought in another Dublin artist Ricki Rawness who added his own spoken word rap to the track. There is no way in a million years that I’d have planned this, never mind known how to put it together.
What I really loved about where Goldy and Ricki took the remix was the words Ricki wrote which took the song into the territory of medication, mental health and the 9-to-5 grind. Arguably we’ve made the first synthpop hip-hop crossover *LAUGHS LOUDLY*
How did the video come about?
We were discussing the track and laughing about how much craic we’d have making a promo video. Well one thing led to another and I found myself with Goldy, Ricki an actress and a cameraman in a video studio in Dublin. We took half a day under Goldy’s direction and made some art. He interpreted the song as me sitting on a virtual bus while the negative sh*t that invades our brains sits alongside these characters invading my personal space.
The remixes really are ‘out there’. Fans of more traditional synthpop will be pleased to hear that there is a synthy extended remix too where you can really hear the Linn and the 106… oh and a remix by Duckworth from ANALOG ON who rendered a ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ type remix. He claims he remixed it on a recent trip to Mars. That’s the kind of friends I have! *laughs*
They’re all on the limited-edition CD single while the original track and Goldy’s remix are on digital platforms.
It has provoked some quite Marmite reactions! From “that’s quite something” to “I turned it off when the rap started” and all points in between. I knew this would happen and while my inner critic said “I told you so”, I remind myself that I’m doing this for me and nobody else. It’s not like I’m U2 and breaking into people’s iPods to force their music on them.
‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’ is the title of the forthcoming album, that’s quite a mouthful, is there a concept at all?
I do like my long-winded album titles don’t I? *laughs*
With so much populism and division undermining our society I want to focus on the value and not the price. It was also a misheard statement on Black Friday which my inner magpie borrowed. There’s a bit of a concept there. If I reflect on the subject matter of the songs the common thread is that they’re all dealing with some aspect of the human condition. Everything from allowing populism to distort your worldview (yes I wrote about Brexit in ‘New Beginning’) to contentment (‘I Don’t Want To Fall In Love Again’) with a stop off at regret (‘Sold My Soul)’ and mental health (‘The Rain’).
I waited until I had a set of songs which all worked together. That was a frustrating wait but one that was worth it I think. Simultaneously I’ve been working on a separate album which is very much a concept album in that it has a storyline – I’ll share more about that another day – and I have Hannah Peel to thank for inspiring me to do it.
Is ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’ a one-man musical show like ‘siliconchipsuperstar’? Anything you can reveal?
The new album features some backing vocals from my friend Andy Patchell and I’ve got friends contributing remixes. Aside from that, I won’t say more at this stage but there is a very cool artist I’m working with on a mini-album (or is that an EP?) who recently brought in a quite legendary UK electronic music pioneer to further the collaboration. And now we are three.
I had some songs that didn’t fit well with ‘The Value Of Everything & The Price Of Nothing’ and they’re working nicely in this collaboration. My collaborator brings a fresh view on the songs and I have to admit it’s great not having to do all the lifting myself. It’s going to be a hell of a ride in the next 18 months plus I feel another batch of songwriting sessions coming on. Not nearly enough hours in the day to do all of this.
Have you brought any new synths on board? 😉
Chi, you bloody well know I have! How long have you got? *laughs*
One of the reasons I delayed rushing out a new album was to take time to explore some new synths and move out of softsynths. There were a couple of synths I really wanted and managed to find a Sequential Circuits Pro-One as well as a Roland Jupiter 4 in really minty condition. Both had been in storage for years. The Pro-One is like ‘instant Vince Clarke’ when you use a sequencer to manipulate the filter cut-off. Every person who meets it can’t help touching it and talking about ‘Upstairs At Erics’ *laughs*
The Jupiter 4 was an obvious choice and damn I feel sorry now for Vince having read that he carried it to ‘Top Of the Pops’ from the tube. It’s bloody heavy! Seriously it’d damn heavy. I found it in a tiny village on the west coast of Ireland – drove all the way there to get it one Saturday last spring.
What I love about the Jupiter 4 is both the filter and the arpeggiator behaviour. It was Clark Stiefel of MAISON VAGUE who really sold me on the Jupiter 4. Check out some of his videos on YouTube. Set-up a simple patch and let the filter modulate while running the arpeggiator. I could sit there for hours listening to it. Actually… I have… it’s like synthy AMSR *laughs*
The Jupiter 4 features prominently on the song “The Rain’ off the new album. It has this lovely raindrop-like sound but in a melancholic way. Aside from those synths I managed to get my hands on a Moog Sub37 because… well… Moog. It’s got this lovely beefy sound and is possibly my favourite bass synth.
On the drum machine side, I invested in a Dave Smith Instruments Tempest which has challenged me as It’s not a simple machine to operate. I also got a recreation of the Roland CR78 called the Beatbot TT78. It has that lovely metal beat. What I really like about them both is that they force me into processing the sounds when I record them. There’s a couple of tracks where I’vetaken the raw sound out of the Tempest and applied bit crushing or other effects from the Soundtoys plug-ins.
Shortly after releasing ‘siliconchipsuperstar’ I bought the Korg reissue of the ARP Odyssey. Anyone who admires Billy Currie will want one. What’s fascinating about that synth is that it doesn’t follow the so-called traditional left to right layout of oscillators into filter into envelope. It really messed with my head at first and even now when I go back to it I have to think through what I’m doing.
You know what’s the best fun? Putting the Odyssey through a bit of distortion and a delay or reverb, then pretending you’re Billy Currie while playing the filter live. I defy anybody to tell me otherwise *laughs*
It’s the synth version of singing along to with a hairbrush to the new DURAN DURAN single. That’s the thing with the Odyssey. It’s meant to be played on the keyboard with one hand while you ‘play’ the sliders with the other hand. It’s all over the new album especially on the track ‘Sold My Soul’. Big droning beefy wailing sound with lots of echo! What’s not to love?
What’s your favourite synth of all time?
How am I supposed to answer that question? Just one? I’m not having that! *LAUGHS LOUDLY*
My favourite mono synth is the Pro One because it has that Vince sound and is so versatile with all its modulation routings.
My favourite polysynth is the DX7… no just kidding, don’t print that! It’s the Juno 106 because that was my first synth back in 1985. Even now I go back to that synth for simple pads and mad little sequenced ear candy.
How have you managed to blend the mix of analogue and digital while still remaining authentic, do you have any particular stance on this?
Thanks – authentic is a massive compliment. I know this sounds corny but I do try to listen to what I’m doing and put it through the lens of someone producing in the 1970s or 1980s. Dammit, I’m mixing my metaphors again aren’t I? How do you put sounds through a lens? I suppose I could try *laughs*
What I mean is I try to achieve the aesthetic that served my musical heroes so well. Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn whether it’s analogue or digital. I really couldn’t! Having said that there is something gorgeous about analogue when it’s in full flow and executed well.
Let’s take an example: the Linn that was used on ‘Dare’. Should we hate it because it’s got digital in it? I can’t get on with the analogue snobbery. It’s all reduced to 1s and 0s anyway and life is too short.
Electronic pop within the Emerald Isle seems to be in a good state of health at the moment?
It is isn’t it? I’m afraid to list any artists in case I leave someone out. I will call out Hannah Peel though. Oh my god isn’t she brilliant? You recommended Hannah to me so I went to see her prior to my playing a show in London couple of years ago. That was a genius move Chi, I was thinking after seeing Hannah’s show that I was a complete fake *laughs*
So yeah thanks for that, it really set me up for playing my first London show. Hannah is doing exactly what I wish I’d been able to do had things been different in my particular circumstances. I totally admire and envy her in equal measures.
But back to the other artists on this island, I have to say there is some very cool stuff going on and the support CIRCUIT3 has received from other artists here has been really great. What is interesting is the absence of infighting which I’ve seen in other places. No breakaway gigs, festivals, radio shows or weird abnormal social media behaviour. The big problems we face here though are outside of our control.
The thing to understand about Ireland is that in almost every home here, there is a musician so the fact that someone makes music isn‘t at all unusual. So it’s really difficult to get people out to gigs aside from a hard core group of fans who I and others are very very grateful to. Music lovers are spoiled over here.
But there‘s still a heavy bias against electronic music in the venues, TV, Radio, print media. So for example there‘s my situation in mid-2016; I was selling vinyl copies of my debut album as fast as I could take them to the post office, I had been invited to play both the Electric Picnic which is arguably the equivalent of Glastonbury over here plus I was getting airplay on Dan Hegarty’s show on RTE as well as iRadio, plus of course multiple internet radio shows and was invited to play on a bill in London alongside some of the best UK artists and Wolfgang Flür, a former member of KRAFTWERK.
So how many column inches did Hot Press, the so-called go-to music and popular culture publication give to CIRCUIT3? They gave the square root of sod-all. Nothing. Not even an album review. I might as well be invisible. Yet the latest beardy fake folk hipster cr*p is flavour of the month. Some Z-list Bobby Dylan wannabe groans out loud and that’s worth writing about? Give me a break. It’s all so beige if you know what I mean?
Nothing has really changed since the 1980s here. There’s some weird fear or ignorance of synthpop here and it all gets lumped into a lazy ‘80s retro’ label.
Well, the electric guitar blues comes from where? Robert Johnson right? That’s the 1930s, so why isn’t electric blues guitar called ‘Retro 1930s music’?
All of the traditional music forms here haven’t changed in hundreds of years, but the ‘new and exciting’ trad artist is anything but. Music is, by and large, all good but I just can’t get my head around the conscious bias against electronic music here and especially synthpop. The tastemakers have no taste.
As a comparative success within independent circles, it must have been interesting to observe some of the comings and goings of other artists and their efforts to get traction, some of which have been a bit abnormal? What advice would you give to other artists on this? 😉
Oh where to begin? Well look. In my own head CIRCUIT3 is not a success really. I think there’s a way to go before CIRCUIT3 is a success I suppose. Another album for a starter. A tour would be nice.
My observations? I look at other artists and think to myself “damn they’re nailing it!” and then on the same day there’s some really weird stuff happening on social media. Everything from creating scenes that aren’t actually there, to social media personas that aren’t real. I mean don’t people realise that we’re capable of doing google searches?
For whatever it’s worth, my advice would be to focus on the music, ignore the sideshows, don‘t be an a*sehole and try to remember your own little bubble isn’t the world. Tell you what though, I’ve travelled over to gigs in the UK and met up with people and they’re so friendly and cool. I’ve met some great friends through being an ‘artist’ but I’ve seen some weird sh*t, really weird sh*t and if I’m truthful, some of the behaviour I’ve seen online has been quite bizarre. I can’t see how that benefits anyone’s music career.
As a long-time electronic music enthusiast, what do you make of this Synthwave thing?
Do you really want to know? This is a real bug-bear of mine! *laughs*
I think it’s a bit of old nonsense and that‘s as polite as I can be. It’s nostalgia for a sound that never really existed outside of maybe a couple of episodes of ‘Miami Vice’ and a Michael Shreeve album. I was there in the 1980s and this Synthwave thing simply didn’t exist. It’s a complete fraud! It’s like someone dropped acid and watched some YouTube videos.
It’s a complete fantasy. Whoever made it up deserves a medal. It’s a bit like Britpop label, an excuse for dull uninventive repetitive sh*te to be packaged up and sold to people. A saxophone and a Poly6 bass patch does not a song make. I did try to take a listen to some of this earlier this year and figured I’d try to have a go at making some of that sound. I got bored incredibly quickly… too quick to stick a saxophone on it, you’ll be glad to hear! I was going to put it out as a free download but decided against it, in case I got lumped in with the rest of it.
It was quite amusing when the Synthwave fraternity went into meltdown over the artwork of ‘Simulation Theory’ by MUSE?
I was on holiday at the time and thought it was pretty funny. A community built on a genre that never really existed getting their Filofaxes in a twist over a band that has a track record in pinching stuff from ULTRAVOX *laughs*
Ironic as MUSE have always used synths and borrowed heavily from ULTRAVOX since 2003…
I’m not in a position to throw stones though, Midge Ure will be after me for royalties if I’m not careful! *laughs*
If you’re going to borrow then borrow from the best I say. I think MUSE are great – they’re certainly selling more albums than CIRCUIT3 and playing to huge audiences. I can’t quite get my head around why they’ve spent so much time on Reddit as inspiration for their new album.
There was like a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude that you couldn’t use ‘glowing’ artwork unless your music comprised of meandering formless electronic instrumentals… discuss! 😉
Oh yeah ‘rules’ and ‘style’ right? I suspect this whole Synthwave thing was invented so that a couple of artists could feel they belong to a ‘scene’ and it just got out of control before someone could say the emperor has no clothes.
But look, it’s a very normal thing wanting to be part of a gang. Teenagers have done it for years. I dunno, I find the whole thing quite strange. I keep going back to the fact that this is unrecognisable to anyone who was a music fan in the 1980s. The glowing graphic is closer to bloody ‘Blockbusters’, gimme an ‘S’ Bob!
You got to meet one of your heroes Howard Jones recently, how was that?
Ah that was brilliant. It was part of the event to celebrate the box sets of ‘Human’s Lib’ and ‘Dream Into Action’ hosted in Metropolis Studios. I had just landed after a flight from Seattle and was silly jet lagged. The Q&A session with the production team of Stephen W Tayler and Rupert Hine was fascinating.
I got to ask as geeky a question as I wished – basically asking them about their respective approaches to their role when trying to preserve the feel of a demo. Too often that’s lost in the process, perhaps less so these days due to digital audio workstations.
As you would expect, Howard’s live set on Freddie Mercury’s piano was great – especially his impressions. The less well-known side of Howard is his sense of humour – he does a great Welsh accent. I got to meet with him and chat a little. He signed my Live Aid program (yes I was there) and chatted about synths.
You have this mission where you get the great and the good to sign your Arturia MiniBrute, who realistically would you like to add their scrawl on it?
I have an Arturia MiniBrute SE which has the wood sides and metallic control panel. What happened was I had a chance to meet Vince Clarke before an ERASURE gig in Dublin so figured ‘why not?’ and brought it along.
It has been signed by Vince, the OMD lads, Gary Numan and now Howard Jones. It’s always a talking point with the artists and we get to connect a little over music which is nice. Paul Humphreys from OMD wanted to go have a chat about the other Arturia synths. A travel issue meant I couldn’t bring it to my meet with Thomas Dolby so maybe next time.
If there’s someone I’d very much like to get to sign it, I think it would have to be Daniel Miller.
I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim though and I’ll probably be escorted out soon as I try to show him my Mute logo tattoo *laughs*
Oh and John Foxx… and Martyn Ware… and Eric Radcliffe…
Where would you ultimately like to take CIRCUIT3?
I want to keep getting better at songwriting and making music that people want to listen to. With the new album ‘The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything’, I feel I’m doing that. I’m keeping the flame alive for those sounds and hopefully developing my songwriting along the way. The other album which I’ve been working on at the same time has some songs I’m very proud of and I can feel the development in my writing and production.
One of my dreams would be to tour either as support to another act or to do some shows around UK and Europe on my own or as part of a package tour similar to the ‘Ohm From Ohm’ tour. To be at that level where people are listening to and willing to pay to see you perform live is to me one of the dreams. Maybe the opportunity to work with one of my heroes? Yeah I’d be pleased with that. For now though… I have this new album to mix.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Peter Fitzpatrick
‘For Your Own Good’ is available as a CD single or download from https://circuit3.bandcamp.com/, along with other releases in the CIRCUIT3 back catalogue
CIRCUIT3 plays Synth Wave Live 3 at Electrowerkz in London on Saturday 22nd June 2019, the line-up also includes B-MOVIE, JOHAN BAECKSTRÖM, EUGENE, LUCKYANDLOVE, CENTRE EXCUSE, YS ATLOV, LOW SEA, SOL FLARE + THE DEPARTMENT – tickets available from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/461473