Tag: Hurts (Page 1 of 3)

A Beginner’s Guide To ARTHUR BAKER

Boston-born Arthur Baker began as a DJ, but aspired to be a producer following taking an engineering course at Intermedia Studios. He wanted to make music, rather than play records.

After some early experiences, Baker became wise to the swindling ways of the music industry. He eventually released his first single ‘Kind of Life (Kind of Love)’ under the name NORTH END in 1979.

But his breakthrough as a producer came after he moved to New York in 1981. Working for urban label Tommy Boy Records, where he met engineer and keyboard player John Robie, they came up with ‘Planet Rock’.

Utilising the-then new Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer, in particular its distinctive analogue cowbell, rimshot and snare sounds, its lasting effect on the future of music came about more by chance.

Baker wanted to employ a more mechanised electronic aesthetic in the vein of KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA to the output of Tommy Boy and saw an advert in The Village Voice: “Man with drum machine, $20 a session”… the rest is history. But the programmer of the track’s iconic 808 beat pattern remained unknown, thanks insisting on cash for his services, having declined a cheque.

‘Planet Rock’ featured sampling without a sampler, its ‘Trans Europe Express’ synth parts manually recreated by Robie.

Although Baker did use a Fairlight CMI for the orchestra hits, he considered it “a $100,000 waste of space”. Released in 1982, ‘Planet Rock’ put electro, as it came to be known, on the map.

Never one to waste a good thing, Baker produced ‘Play at Your Own Risk’ for PLANET PATROL, taking unused recorded parts from ‘Planet Rock’. His midas touch continued with the similar sounding ‘IOU’ for FREEEZ, once again maximising the rigid character of the 808.

Always in touch with what was going on at street level, Baker often tried out his rough mixes at clubs like Paradise Garage, The Danceteria and The Fun House. Although missing out on THE BEASTIE BOYS, Baker achieved major worldwide success when he signed NEW EDITION to his Streetwise Records. The label also released Eartha Kitt’s Boystown favourite ’Where Is My Man?’ , while other artists on the roster included Colonel Abrams, Cuba Gooding and Loleatta Holloway.

In 1989 with THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES, Baker gathered a diverse all-star cast of Al Green, Andy McCuskey, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho to sing on the ‘Merge’ album, a pop hybrid record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop.

Reflecting his trailblazing reputation in dance music with an ear for a good tune, Baker was commissioned to provide remixes for a wide range of mainstream artists including Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Neneh Cherry and Tina Turner, as well as more middle of the road acts like FLEETWOOD MAC, HALL & OATES and WET WET WET.

Baker’s varispeeded treatment of ‘Spaceman’ by BABYLON ZOO was used in the 1995 Levi’s TV commercial ‘Planet’, but many were disappointed to be met with the dirge rock original when the track was released as a single.

Now based between London, Miami and Ibiza, Baker continues to DJ while he notably co-produced and appeared in the 2015 documentary film ‘808’ directed by Alexander Dunn about the machine which he helped turn into a cultural icon.

Featuring reminisces by Phil Collins, Jori Hulkkonen, Felix Da Housecat, Richie Hawtin, Rick Rubin and Norman Cook among many, Baker himself interviewed the late Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi who had deliberately purchased faulty transistors to create the machine’s distinctive sizzling sound. Continuing his interest in documentaries, Baker is currently making one about NEW ORDER.

With such a varied career, The Electricity Club presents a Beginner’s Guide to Arthur Baker featuring 18 tracks that cover the breadth of his influential music portfolio.


Recorded by Baker at Intergalactic Studios, the ‘Planet Rock’ synth leadline interpolated KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ while the Roland TR-808 drum machine mimicked ‘Numbers’; the track even included a chant of its Japanese count. But where there’s a hit, there’s a writ so when Baker later had to pay up for using elements of KRAFTWERK, he just put up the price of the record to fund the settlement. ‘Planet Rock’ eventually sold one million copies and paid for its debt.

Available on the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE album ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat 1980 -1985’ via Tommy Boy Records


PLANET PATROL Play At Your Own Risk (1982)

More in the vein of classic soul groups like THE TEMPTATIONS, PLANET PATROL offered an electro twist on that five way vocal template and even featured a member named Melvin Franklin! ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ was made from recorded parts that did not make the final version of ‘Planet Rock’, with Baker even saying that both came from the same multitrack. Listening back, it was also the blueprint for Baker’s ‘IOU’ which became a huge hit for FREEEZ.

Available on the PLANET PATROL album ‘Planet Patrol’ via Tommy Boy Records


ROCKERS REVENGE featuring DONNIE CALVIN Walking On Sunshine (1982)

Mechanising Eddie Grant’s funky favourite in the sparkly pulsing vein of D-TRAIN, Baker’s cover of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ was specifically made for the Paradise Garage. Baker assembled ROCKERS REVENGE as a studio project with vocalists Donnie Calvin, Dwight Hawkes and Baker’s wife Tina B. While there an electronic feel, its looseness pioneered a more freestyle form that would later emerge in its own right. Continuing the covers theme, a version of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘The Harder They Come’ came out in 1983.

Available on the ROCKERS REVENGE album ‘Walking On Sunshine’ via Acrobat


AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Looking For The Perfect Beat (1983)

With a funky urban twist over colder European electronics, ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ with its freestyling and mighty breakbeats took hip-hop up to the next level. With its self-prophesising title, it was far more complex and varied than ‘Planet Rock’, with nearly a year taken in the making. It showed ‘Planet Rock’ was no fluke, but Baker later remarked that the track was motivated as a taunt at Tommy Boy’s rivals and pioneers of rap, Sugar Hill Records. “Beat Dis”!

Available on the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE album ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat 1980 -1985’ via Tommy Boy Records



Originally a jazz funk combo, FREEEZ had fragmented to the duo of John Rocca and Peter Maas when they became fascinated by ‘Planet Rock’. Meeting Baker in New York, he suggested recording his self-penned ‘IOU’. While there was a appearance from the ubiquitous Roland TR808, an Emulator was used for the staccato voice passages but key to the song’s appeal was Rocca’s falsetto. It was co-mixed by John Jellybean Benitez, the DJ at The Funhouse who later worked with Madonna and had a solo career.

Available on the FREEEZ album ‘Gonna Get You’ via Cherry Red


NEW EDITION Candy Girl (1983)

Signing what was effectively the modern electro incarnation of JACKSON 5 to his Streetwise label, Baker hit paydirt with NEW EDITION and their sweet worldwide No1 ‘Candy Girl’. With the tune’s writers Maurice Starr and Michael Jonzun working in the studio with the young quintet, Baker was executive producer and did the final mix with Starr. Unusually for a boy band, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe all went on to have successful careers after the group.

Available on the NEW EDITION album ‘Candy Girl’ via Streetwise Records


NEW ORDER Confusion (1983)

With NEW ORDER’s interest in dance music, having opened the Haçienda with New York clubs in mind, a collaborative union with Baker was inevitable. But Baker wanted to make ‘Blue Monday’ while and the Mancunians wanted to make ‘Planet Rock’, so the result was quite literally ‘Confusion’! Drummer Stephen Morris in particular had admitted frustration during the recording sessions as Baker would not let him alter his Roland TR808’s already-programmed patterns, fearing he would lose his trademark sound.

Edited version available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA


ARTHUR BAKER Breaker’s Revenge (1984)

For the film ‘Beat Street’, Baker helped produce its soundtrack and contributed the frantic beat and sample laden instrumental ‘Breakers’ Revenge’ to the score. The movie itself was a based around New York’s hip hop and breakdancing scene, with part of the plot based on the graffiti documentary ‘Style Wars’. Noted figures such as GRANDMASTER MELLE MEL & THE FURIOUS FIVE, THE SYSTEM, DOUG E. FRESH and THE SOULSONIC FORCE all appeared.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER mix album ‘Breakin’ via Mushroom Records



ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID was formed by Steven Van Zandt and Baker to protest against apartheid in South Africa, while drawing parallels with the plight of Native Americans. “A song about change not charity, freedom not famine”, ‘Sun City’ highlighted the hypocrisy of the South African government allowing entertainment there that was banned in the country, with a call to reinforce the international boycott. It featured Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, U2 and RUN DMC.

Originally from the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID ‎album ‘Sun City’ via Manhattan Records, currently unavailable


FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS Ever Fallen In Love – Club Senseless remix (1986)

‘Ever Fallen in Love’ was a noted song of punk and disaffection written by the late Pete Shelley and performed by his band BUZZCOCKS. But FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS caused  a stir with a dance friendly version co-produced by TALKING HEADS’ Jerry Harrison for the film ‘Something Wild’. With his Club Senseless remix, Baker exploited the track’s funkier possibilities, his theory being “if you had a really groovy bassline, the drums don’t have to be a straight kick, because people dance to the bassline.”

Available on the FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS album ‘The Raw & the Cooked’ via Edsel Records


PET SHOP BOYS In The Night – Arthur Baker remix (1986)

‘In The Night’ was the B-side for the first single version of ‘Opportunities’ and saw PET SHOP BOYS reusing the same chord progression as its A-side. The lyrics referred to Les Zazous, an apolitical group in France during the Second World War who were disliked by the Nazis and the Resistance. Although Phil Harding produced, Baker did a more percussive 12 inch remix which opened the ‘Disco’ collection. This was later edited and used as the theme music for the BBC’s ‘The Clothes Show’ between 1986 and 1994.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco’ via EMI Records


NEW ORDER Touched By The Hand Of God (1987)

Arthur Baker developed an enduring relationship with NEW ORDER, both in the studio and as friends, having co-written ‘Confusion’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’ like he was a member of the band. Working as the music supervisor for the movie soundtrack of Beth B’s parody of televangelism ‘Salvation’, NEW ORDER contributed six tracks. The best known was ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’, its title inspired by the controversial Argentine footballer Diego Maradona and mixed by Baker for singular consumption.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘(The Best Of)’ via London Records


WILL DOWNING A Love Supreme (1988)

Will Downing had sung with Baker’s project WALLY JUMP JR & THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT on the single ‘Turn Me Loose’ in 1986. So when the New Yorker signed as a solo artist with 4th & Broadway, the US-based subsidiary of Island Records, Baker was a natural choice as producer. A cover of the John Coltrane jazz piece with additional lyrics by Downing, the arrangement made the most of a soulful deep house vibe that was emanating from the US at the time.

Available on the WILL DOWNING album ‘A Love Supreme – The Collection’ via Spectrum



A&M Records offered Baker an album deal, but rather than facing the opportunity alone, he recruited a studio collective comprising of John Warren, Tiny Valentine, Mac Quayle, Bobby Khozouri, Philip Damien and Cevin Fisher, several of whom were to become notable in their own right. ‘Merge’ consisted mostly of dance flavoured pop; ‘Mythical Girl’ was an ABC track in all but name, involving not just Martin Fry but musical partner Mark White too, with Baker and his team producing.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records


NEW ORDER 1963 – 95 (1995)

‘1963’ came from the 1987 sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to the annoyance of Peter Hook, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out, only making a brief appearance at the end of the original version. Released as a belated A-side in a 1995 remix, Baker took the opportunity to make the bassist’s presence heard throughout the song in this dreamier cinematic reinterpretation.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA


TINA TURNER Whatever You Want – Massive Jungle Remix (1996)

Written by Baker with Taylor Dayne and one-time studio associate Fred Zarr who had worked with Baker on several recordings, ‘Whatever You Want’ for Tina Turner was an archetypical production from Trevor Horn in its single variant. Baker’s Massive Jungle Remix though did exactly what it said on the tin, but crucially kept Turner’s mighty vocal while also retaining the key cinematic essence that had made the song appealing within its mainstream context.

Originally from the TINA TURNER 12″ single ‘Whatever You Want (The Arthur Baker Mixes)’ via Parlophone Records, currently unavailable


NEW ORDER Behind Closed Doors (2001)

“I listen to The Coors behind closed doors” suggested Bernard Sumner ominously on this 21st Century NEW ORDER B-side produced by Baker. With its dark cinematics, the introspective tone of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was very different to the more rocky tension of the ‘Get Ready’ comeback album. Sumner’s observations on domestic violence, lack of parental responsibility and chemical dependency coupled with mournful bass from Hooky made for sinister listening.

Available on the NEW ORDER single ‘Crystal’ via WEA


HURTS Wonderful Life – Arthur Baker remix (2010)

‘Wonderful Life’ had an epic cinematic backdrop with noirish synths and brooding woodwinds that saw singer Theo Hutchcraft telling the story of a suicidal man saved by love at first sight. The sub-six minute Arthur Baker remix took away the big compressed drums and replaced them with the tight electro snap of an 808. Adding a squelchy bassline sequence reminiscent of a 303, Baker kept the song intact and satisfied those who felt HURTS were nothing more than TAKE THAT dressed like ULTRAVOX.

Available on the HURTS single ‘Wonderful Life’ via RCA Records


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th September 2019

A Synth Is For Life & Not Just For Christmas…

Remember, a synth is for life and not just for Christmas...As the Yule Tide season gets into full swing, The Electricity Club presents a collection of modern seasonal tunes with a more artful slant…

With a song to play on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, some are covers while others are original compositions. But each has their own take on the holiday period, whether happy or sad or both.

Synths at Christmas are not entirely new; ‘Last Christmas’ by WHAM! was primarily made with a Roland Juno 60 while BAND AID’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas? was dominated by PPG Wave 2.2 with a percussive sample taken from ‘Memories Fade’ by TEARS FOR FEARS also being key to the intro.

Whatever your plans whether with the family or in the studio, please remember, a synth is for life and not just for Christmas… may it bring you lots of cheer 🎹🎄😉

CHEW LIPS When You Wake Up (2010)

CHEW LIPS may be on hiatus but in 2010, on the back of their only album ‘Unicorn’ and its subsequent tour, they were on a productive high. ‘When You Wake Up’ was a bonus tune recorded and given away as a Christmas gift to fans at the end of that very successful year. Delivered with lead singer Tigs’ usual feisty panache, listening back only highlights how much CHEW LIPS are missed.

Originally released as a free download


ERASURE Gaudete (2013)

ERASURE GaudeteAndy Bell and Vince Clarke’s version of this traditional Ecclesiastical Latin carol continued an ERASURE tradition that had begun in 1988 with ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ for the CD edition of the ‘Crackers International’ EP in 1988. With a precise electronic backbeat, ‘Gaudete’ was taken from its 16th Century origins and thrown into the new millennium whilst still retaining its original essence with a cheeky ‘Ice Machine’ reference for good measure.

Available on the album ‘Snow Globe’ via Mute Artists


HURTS All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day (2010)

Hurts-christmasWith their TAKE THAT dressed as ULTRAVOX template having achieved great success in Europe, courtesy of their debut album ‘Happiness’, Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson parradoxically turned their attentions to memories of “the worst Christmas of our lives”. In true Bros Go To Bavaria style, despite the mournful start, ‘All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day’ steadily transformed itself into a hopeful anthem with a big chorus and lashings of tubular bells.

Available on the download single ‘All I Want for Christmas Is New Year’s Day’ via Major Label / RCA


HYPERBUBBLE A Synthesizer for Christmas (2013)

HYPERBUBBLE A Synthesizer for ChristmasWhether it was a Casio, Yamaha or Roland, everyone wanted ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’. Texan couple HYPERBUBBLE took that enduring memory and turned it into a delightful synthpop ditty that could resonate with electronic geeks from eight to eighty the world over. Short but sweet, it was another joyous “cartoon automaton symphony” from Jess and Jeff.

Available on the download single ‘A Synthesizer For Christmas’ via Socket Sounds


LOLA DUTRONIC Another Christmas Without Snow (2010)

Lola Dutronic-Christmas without snowIn the UK, a wet Christmas is always more likely,  but LOLA DUTRONIC’s ‘Another Christmas Without Snow’ resonated with its melancholic yet pretty demeanour. The project of Canadian producer Richard Citroen and using a flexible roster of wispy female vocalists, the tones of Lola Dee came over all dreamy like SAINT ETIENNE and conveyed the season’s mixed emotions.

Available on the download single ‘(Another) Christmas Without Snow’ via Lola Dutronic


MARSHEAUX We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night (2015)

GHOSTS-OF-CHRISTMAS-PAST-twi158cd‘We Met Bernard Sumner At A Christmas Party Last Night’ is a wonderfully whispery synthpop number that is classic MARSHEAUX. The lyrics are constructed from the song and album titles of NEW ORDER to provide an imaginary narrative on Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou surreally bumping into the Manchester combo’s lead singer at a Yule Tide function.

Available on the album ‘Ghost Of Christmas Past Remake)’ (V/A) via Les Disques du Crépuscule


HANNAH PEEL Find Peace (2014)

HANNAH PEEL Find Peace‘Find Peace’ is a Christmas song longing for the cold but merry winters of yesteryear under the modern day spectre of global warming, armed conflict and political tension. It is certainly a suitably poignant message for the festive season. With hints of GAZELLE TWIN, the off-kilter analogue buzzing and almost random sequences make for a striking listen as a frantic percussive death rattle and an emotive synth drone take hold to provide an appropriate backdrop for HANNAH PEEL’s eerie but beautiful voice.

Available on the download and 7 inch single ‘Find Peace’ via Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club


PET SHOP BOYS It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas (2009)

Pet_Shop_Boys_-_ChristmasOriginally recorded in 1997 for an exclusive fan club single but remixed in 2009 for an official release, ‘It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas’ was a suitably camp offering that couldn’t have been anyone else. Famous for keeping THE POGUES ‘Farytale Of New York’ off the 1987 UK Christmas No1 spot with their cover of ‘Always On My Mind’, while this didn’t hit those commercial heights, it provided a very PET SHOP BOYS take on the madness of the festive season.

Available on the EP ‘Christmas’ via EMI Records


SIN COS TAN Dead By X-Mas (2016)

A cover of Finnish metal glamsters HANOI ROCKS, this take on ‘Dead By X-Mas’ from the nocturnal synth duo SIN COS TAN aka Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen came over a bit like BILLY IDOL gone electro, but with an elegiac twist. Bizarrely in 2006, the former William Broad issued his own collection of seasonal themed tunes entitled ‘Happy Holidays’ … it’s a nice day for a ‘White Christmas!

Available as a free download


SPARKS Christmas Without A Prayer (2015)

SPARKS Christmas Without A PrayerBack in 1974 for their ‘Kimono My House’ album, the Mael brothers recorded a song called ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’, a typically perverse SPARKS romp that had nothing to do as such with the holiday season. Currently enjoying their highest profile since their pop heyday, thanks to their FFS collaboration with FRANZ FERDINAND, Russell and Ron ended the year with ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’, a fitting offering which also amusingly outlined that albums by WINGS were actually unwanted gifts.

Available on the download single ‘Christmas Without A Prayer’ via Lil’ Beethoven Records


VICE VERSA Little Drum Machine Boy (2015)

“A twisted cover of a cover of a cover”, this synth laden reinterpretation of the tune (based on a traditional Czech carol) made famous by a bizarre but highly enjoyable version by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, saw former ABC stalwarts Mark White and Stephen Singleton reconvene as  VICE VERSA to wax lyrical about 303s, 808s, 909s and a “shiny new Roland toy”. It was a fabulous combination of sleigh bells, squelching arpeggios and of course, drum machines…

Available as a free download


VILE ELECTRODES The Ghosts Of Christmas (2013)

VILE ELECTRODES The Ghosts Of ChristmasIf ‘Twin Peaks’ met ‘Leader Of The Pack’ under the mistletoe, it would sound like this. Possibly the best Christmas tune of the last five or ten years, Anais Neon’s harrowing tale of a departed loved one is strangely enticing, with the beautifully haunting echoes of JULEE CRUISE’s ‘The Nightingale’ lingering over the frozen lake.

Available on the EP ‘The Ghosts Of Christmas’ via Vile Electrodes


A further varied collection of seasonal synth based tunes compiled by The Electricity Club can be listened to at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7vIIjZkGd3cVOSarUPvX85

Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th December 2018, updated 21st December 2019

It Goes On – What’s Happened To Synthpop?

CHVRCHES-2015-01Today, CHVRCHES are perhaps the nearest thing to the ‘Synth Britannia’ tradition and have proved that there is an international market for synthpop.

With catchy melodies and riffs that work with vocal toplines rather than being swamped by them, they are presently the saviours of synthpop, bringing that sound to a new generation.

But elsewhere, acts like YEARS & YEARS and EKKOES are being championed by the mainstream press as synthpop when they clearly aren’t. As the Athens-based synth maidens MARSHEAUX recently put it to TEC: “For sure you can’t say that YEARS & YEARS are synthpop. Maybe the production is electronic, but the entire attitude is not.” 

In that case, why are so many modern acts being described in the mainstream as synthpop? These mis-sold products would surely be questioned under the Trade Descriptions Act, like PPI? It goes on, so what has happened to synthpop?

Back in the day following the paths laid by KRAFTWERK and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, a new trend began as a riposte to angry punk music dominating the alternative charts… three keys versus three chords, why not?! Moog synthesisers on TUBEWAY ARMY’s ‘Are Friends Electric?’, which topped the UK charts in 1979, were to pave the way for cheaper, but perfectly usable Korgs or Rolands for THE HUMAN LEAGUE and OMD to play with to their hearts’ content.

But these first outings were more doom than pop, with some arguing that was exactly what electronica was supposed to be about. To this day, reluctant League fans quote ‘Reproduction’ and ‘Travelogue’ as their favourite albums. Philip Oakey preferred that pop factor, which he achieved with the recruitment of Joanne Catherall and Susanne Sulley.

Of course GIORGIO MORODER‘s take on synth has always been on the disco side, pleasing Oakey himself to oblivion ‘Together In Electric Dreams’, further disambiguating the meaning of the genre.

Erasure_7550With similar instincts, Vince Clarke cited “boredom with touring” in DEPECHE MODE, to abandon them for YAZOO and then the super poppy ERASURE. “He wanted to be the new ABBA” said John Fryer, co-engineer of those early DM recording sessions. Meanwhile, with Martin Gore as their chief songwriter, the Basildon lads gradually darkened and went off to achieve God like status across the globe.

For arguments sake, if ERASURE are pure, 100% synthpop, then DEPECHE MODE would be dark synthpop. But is every song with synths a synthpop song? Is TAYLOR DAYNE electronica, because the bassline for ‘Tell It To My Heart’ is produced on synthesizers? How about REAL LIFE with ‘Send Me An Angel’ or any WHAM! song for that matter? The obvious answer is no…

If the Musicians Union once tried to ban the use of the synthesizers during live performances and in studios, why has it become so important to jump on the synth bandwagon while doing, what can be described (at best) as mediocre pop?

Human League-1988Maybe it’s the simple passage of time, where things change with their natural flow and genres merge and mutate. THE HUMAN LEAGUE used to sing about Sci-Fi, but they’d never do that now. DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Construction Time Again’ was like a socialist manifesto… but Gore’s not really been political in a while. Instead of writing songs about electrical current, with ‘Tesla Girls’, OMD moved towards songs about attractive ladies using electrical current.

‘Synth Britannia’ suggested that while NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS took synthpop into dancier territory, the meaningful, innovative electronic pop started to dwindle down with the likes of THOMPSON TWINS and HOWARD JONES.

With “too much synthpop being around”, the songs seemed to follow a more conventional template, even with the use of synthesizers. Post-‘Synth Britannia’ saw the dissolution of some bands and only a few managed to stay true to their roots and evolve around their electronic blueprint like DEPECHE MODE.

Fast forward to 2008 and what appeared to be a synthpop revival took to the stage. Artists like LADY GAGA, LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS and HURTS were branded synthpop. But were they? Or was it just simple pop with synth elements?

The abundance of synth dazzled on LADY GAGA‘s super pop songs, both ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’ include a fabulous mixture of electronic sounds. Whether it was a publicity stunt, or not, one could not deny the geniality in which way her songs were produced, and how synthy they sounded. But is that what synthpop was supposed to revive into?

LA ROUX was blatantly described as synthpop and commercially successful, but the remixes of her tracks were curiously done by dubstep producers. Some accused her of jumping on the synth as a fashion statement, especially when she described the genre as dead and unsurprisingly, the follow-up to her debut opus, contained less synth and more guitar. But redeeming action would seem to have taken place in 2015, when she lent her voice to a number of tracks on NEW ORDER’s comeback album ‘Music Complete’.

LITTLE BOOTS used synths more than competently and made headway on her debut ‘Hands’, although follow-ups ‘Nocturnes’ and ‘Working Girl’ ventured towards the less challenging territory of dance, despite her collaborating with JEAN-MICHEL JARRE in 2015.

HURTS-colourAlongside the girls were two boys, HURTS. They engaged in a well-designed commercial success story, being signed to a Sony subsidiary and involving themselves with big names like KYLIE MINOGUE. Packaged as synthpop, they quickly gained the trust of thousands of fans, particularly in Europe, and extensive gigging cemented HURTS’ success. If ‘Happiness’ had elements of electronica in it, they were carefully placed and adequately exploited to produce a very polished album with commerce in mind.

But by ‘Exile’, HURTS aspired to be stadium-era SIMPLE MINDS, while on their third album, the Manchester lads visibly “surrendered” their synth vision in favour of lukewarm pop with ‘Some Kind Of Heaven’ sounding no different to the blandness of SAM SMITH.

While today, Gaga is still active and using synths in her production, RiHANNA and KELIS have been at it too! And now TAYLOR SWIFT can be super electronic at times. But the majority of it is merely pop.

YEARS & YEARSBack in the day, most people got into synths through synthpop. The choruses were often not sung and comprised of catchy melodies, while counter-melodies provided an additional source of musicality; those very counter-melodies so often found with ERASURE aren’t really practised any more, even with acts like SHELTER who utilise the Clarke / Bell template. Still, SHELTER are more synthpop than YEARS & YEARS will ever be!

So why do the mainstream press feel the need to call a pop house act like YEARS & YEARS synthpop? To gain respect or pretend to be niche? It must be! No self-respectable VISAGE or BLANCMANGE fan would entertain the audacity of the comparisons. But for the casual music fan, it can be very misleading.

Eagerly described as electropop and synthpop, YEARS & YEARS have nothing to do with the synthesizer’s legacy. ‘King’ has a synthy bass line but that’s where it ends, other than the strategic positioning of a Moog Voyager in the video. The need to try and define it as synthpop is shameless.

The synthpop definition is causing much head scratching. Whatever, YEARS & YEARS are not KID KASIO; frontman Olly Alexander may be blessed with a soulful singing voice, but he has more in common with BROS than either YAZOO or early EURYTHMICS, two classic acts who successfully combined bluesier vocals with electronics.

MARSHEAUX_U5A3895With songs like ‘Don’t Go’ or ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, everyone remembers the synth riffs that dominate the intros as much as the vocal hooks. That in a nutshell could define synthpop. MARSHEAUX added: “Placing two synthesizers in front of a band doesn’t make them a synthpop band. ’Synthpop’ is a lot of other things than just a synthesizer. Apart from the music, there is also the attitude in a band”.

Meanwhile, Mark Brooks of NIGHT CLUB said: “YEARS & YEARS are almost like a RICK ASTLEY thing… you could say BRITNEY SPEARS is synthpop because it’s synthesizers, but what defines it as synthpop in that underground way is what NIGHT CLUB or CHVRCHES do”.

EKKOES ElekktricityEKKOES, despite being closer to the genre than YEARS & YEARS, still however feel more pop than necessary.

Even the title of their debut album ‘Elekktricity’ feels like a cynical marketing attempt to reflect synthpop’s quirky, maverick heritage without really truly understanding it. It goes back it to pure economics and lazy labelling, with the ideals of synthpop watered down to appear less threatening to gain sales. Like HURTS, what actually hides behind the surface is music that is pleasant and polite, but somewhat insipid.

And like most modern pop, the emphasis is on vocals rather than any synthesized lead lines or counter-melodies. The album’s first single ‘Heaven’ has a short instrumental break, but appears to be a more token act of “look, we’re synthpop!”. Meanwhile, ‘It Goes On’ is akin to a boyband ballad, but without the up-off-the-stools key change…

In a recent interview with John Doran of The Quietus, PET SHOP BOYS’ Neil Tennant said one of the problems in modern pop music is how everything revolves around the singer and their emotions. One of the key appeals of classic synthpop, be it ‘Are Friends Electric?’, ‘Mind Of A Toy’ or ‘New Life’ was that aspect of a role playing narrative and use of metaphors. Things were a lot more thought-provoking then but today, pop lyrics are generally far less complex…

EKKOESPerhaps in a dwindling market for purchasing music, the use of the term synthpop by the mainstream press is aimed at nostalgic 40-something adults with a disposable income, who still have an interest in tangible product. This strategy would counter Da Kids who might show up to a gig or buy a set of Beats headphones, but would not be caught purchasing a download, let alone buying a CD.

And when on further investigation, it is learnt that major record companies have a stake in several music magazines, the situation becomes a bit clearer. Those seemingly random five star reviews from clueless journalists who can’t tell their tape recorders from their drum machines reveal the media bias at large. There’s no conflict of interest there of course, in the rush to sell not only product, but advertising space too…

Kraftwerk-dusseldorf3The specialist electronic music outlets cannot be relied on either, with their over-intellectualisation of KRAFTWERK to validate a blinkered obsession with Detroit Techno and the belief that dance music is the only way.

Within this environment, one cult artist has felt the need to use the phrase dance in their new album’s title in order to gain traction, even though to all intents and purposes, it IS actually a synthpop album!

So the irony is, pop records are being sold as synthpop records, while synthpop records are being sold as dance records!! No wonder people are confused!

It’s interesting that some from the mature adult demographic still hang onto continued mainstream recognition as a measurement of value. They are waiting for THE HUMAN LEAGUE to be played on Radio1 again or DEPECHE MODE to be offered that coveted slot on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, while eagerly hoping that GARY NUMAN, ULTRAVOX or OMD will again make it into the Top30. But it ain’t gonna happen! To still believe in charts, is to believe in fairies.

Night Club_2014_01Instead, the listener has to make more effort now and maybe seek out informed independent media for guidance, especially as independently-minded acts like KITE, VILE ELECTRODES, NIGHT CLUB, JOHAN BAECKSTRÖMMARSHEAUX,  KID KASIO and RODNEY CROMWELL work to keep the spirit of the classic era alive. But aside from CHVRCHES, quality synthpop in the traditional sense will not generally be championed by the mainstream press.

However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, the middle man can now by-passed. And that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast.

Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell and Chi Ming Lai
11th August 2016


HURTS~EXILEFew bands polarise opinion amongst the synth community quite like HURTS. Some admire their grandiose aesthetic which follows in the footsteps of bands like ULTRAVOX and A-HA.

Others see Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson as nothing more than a boy band with a synthesizer and a good tailor. Like them or loathe them, there is no denying their success. Debut album ‘Happiness’, released in 2010, has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and topped the charts in five European countries. A quarter of a million people came to see their accompanying live shows.

HURTS are big business, and set to become even bigger with the release of their long awaited second album, ‘Exile’. The build up to ‘Exile’ has been carefully stage managed, with photos, teasers and free downloads drip fed to the fanbase, slowly raising anticipation to fever pitch. Theo and Adam are masters of using social media to create a buzz.

After all, the HURTS story began with a low budget yet brilliant monochromatic video for ‘Wonderful Life’, featuring Theo singing to camera accompanied by a quirky female dancer. The video spread like wildfire around music blogs and social networks, and a record deal with RCA followed soon thereafter.

Lead single for the new album is ‘Miracle’, and whilst its video has a much higher production values than its 2009 predecessor, the band’s trademark dancers are still there. The video also points to a subtle change in the band’s sound; Adam, who has previously been seen sitting behind a piano, is now brandishing a guitar. HURTS are back, and they have attitude! ‘Miracle’ is bold, anthemic and looks set to trigger a “hands in the air” response at stadiums worldwide a la SIMPLE MINDS.

Not only do guitars feature more prominently on this album, but also the whole mood of the record is darker than before. Opening track ‘Exile’ sets the tone, with its lyrics “so we’ll say goodbye girl, and watch as the world burns, this is exile” It’s a slow builder with a more than a touch of MUSE about it, and perhaps this is no coincidence. Like Teignmouth’s most famous sons, HURTS like to make a statement and could have their sights set on world domination!

The album sees Theo and Adam experimenting with musical styles and never more so than on ‘Sandman’. This track sounds oddly like a TIMBALAND production with its hip hop-influenced backing track overlaid with eerie childlike vocals. Similarly, ‘Blind’ is punctuated by a looped tribal chant sample, although this ultimately proves a distraction from what is otherwise a compelling torch song about lost love and jealousy.

Proceedings take a turn to the dark side with ‘The Road’ inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s pitch black novel of the same name. Here HURTS break out the guitars and launch an aural assault which seems intended to shatter any cynical preconceptions of the duo as a lightweight boy band.

On ‘Cupid’ he massive guitar riffs and abrasive synths are evocative of the DEPECHE MODE meisterwerk ‘Songs of Faith & Devotion’. Lyrically Hutchcraft shares common ground with Martin Gore too: “I feel lust like a sick disease and my blood ignites when I hold you close to me”. This is an album highlight which might just induce a feeling a visceral excitement in many a jaded DM fan.

The rush continues with ‘Mercy’ which is even more bombastic. Stabs of chapel choir add to the intensity as Hutchcraft implores, “don’t cry mercy, there’s too much pain to come.” Is Andrew Eldritch in the house? Finally the gloom lifts, and the closing tracks are perhaps more what one would expect from HURTS. Theo channels CHRIS ISAAK on dreamy ballad ‘The Crow’ which evokes cinematic images of smalltown America. ‘Somebody To Die For’ is a stirring anthem in the mould of ‘Blood, Tears & Gold’ from the first album, whilst album closer ‘Help’ slowly builds to a rousing climax courtesy of a gospel choir.

HURTS have returned with a fine album that retains the core spirit of the band whilst introducing a more diverse sonic palette. Is it a synthpop record? No. Will it silence the detractors? Probably not. But ‘Exile’ is bold, ambitious and at times majestic. In an era when the charts are overrun with autotuned dance and RnB landfill, HURTS, with all their romance, drama and passion, are surely something to be cherished.

‘Exile’ is released by Major Label/RCA on CD, deluxe CD+DVD and download

HURTS 2013 live dates include:

Zürich Kaufleuten (23rd March) Milan Magazzini Generali (25t March), Vienna Arena (27th March), Prague Lucerna Music Bar (28th March), Amsterdam Melkweg (30th March), Manchester Academy 2 (1st April), Glasgow Garage (2nd April), Hanover, NDR2 Plaza Festival (24th May), Manchester O2 Apollo  (25th October), London Troxy (26th October), Prague Incheba Arena (8th November), Berlin Velodrom (10th November), Munich Zenith (11th November), Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Electric Halle (13th November), Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle (14th November)



Text by Steve Gray
20th March 2013

A Beginner’s Guide To The MARSHEAUX Remixes

Dream Of A Disco

In these days of modern  remixing, recordings are often reworked to oblivion with the end result being a pointless club track that bears little relation to the original.

In these types of reinterpretations, vocal samples might occasionally appear but everything else is as good as rendered unrecognisable.

One of the worst early examples of this indulgence was the Transcendental Constant Viper Mix of OMD’s ‘Stand Above Me’ by Phil Kelsey which appeared in 1993… that case was made even worse because what had actually been reworked was another track altogether, namely ‘Dream Of Me’!

Just quite who these versions are aimed at is often a mystery although an excellent article on How The Major Labels Sold ‘Electronica’ To America sheds some light on how this madness may have kick started. And now today with reciprocal remix arrangements being used as part of a dual marketing tool, sometimes quite incongruous pairings are procured with the final outcome getting a mixed reception and often alienating both sets of fanbases.

However, some artists take a more sympathetic approach to the remix opportunity and offer beat enhancements, extra melodic parts and instrumental breakdowns to compliment a track in a far more classic tradition.

RICHARD X, MARK REEDER, PET SHOP BOYS, THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE and FREEMASONS have proved to be fine purveyors of this more accessible song based interplay.

But one duo who outstrip them all with their digi-electro style are Athens based synthgirls MARSHEAUX. Together with their producers FOTONOVELA, Marianthi Melitsi and Sophie Sarigiannidou combine their best synthpop sensibilities with both feet on the dancefloor to deliver some of the best received pop styled remixes of the last ten years with many established artists among their portfolio.

These include official commissions as well as bootlegs for their own club DJ sets. The gift Sophie and Marianthi have when remixing is they always manage to enhance a song with their stamp while retaining the core essence of the original – simple in theory but in reality, not an easy thing to do!

So with a new album from Sophie and Marianthi still a while away, here then are MARSHEAUX’s best eighteen remixes to check out, in alphabetical order by artist. The Electricity Club believes this impressive collection would make a rather good compilation album. Perhaps it could be called ‘Dream Of A Disco’?

CLIENT Its Not Over (2008)

MARSHEAUX took their visual inspiration from CLIENT so when they toured Germany together in 2008, it was a most perfect pairing. On ‘It’s Not Over’, some Hellenic shine is added to CLIENT’s Cold War chic for a slice of electro perfection. Sarah Blackwood’s vocal is given space to breathe while the sharpened glitterball backing retains the fuzzy edge of the original but with some additional Eurocentric riffage.

Available on the CD EP ‘It’s Not Over’ via Out Of Line Records Germany. Listen on YouTube http://youtu.be/P1A9d6kU7JE



DAYBEHAVIOR It’’s A Game (2011)

This synth trio hail from Stockholm but with singer Paulinda’s Italian heritage, a Mediterranean flavour colours their cooler Nordic spirit. So with that in mind, come the bouncy remix of an already brilliant track, this version of ‘It’s A Game’ could easily be mistaken for one of Sophie and Marianthi’s own recordings.

Available on the download single ‘It’s A Game’ via Graplur Records Sweden


DEPECHE MODE A Pain That I’m Used To (2007)

Depeche-Mode-A-Pain-That-I-m-Used-ToAlready a magnificent brooding epic in its original form, this mighty opener to the ‘Playing The Angel’ album was brilliantly transformed by MARSHEAUX, adding their own sparkling top end dynamic. Although never officially released, this was voted top remix in a poll of DEPECHE MODE fans.


ELECTROBELLE Mirrorball (2008)

The original first appeared in 2008 on an EMI Greece related compilation as part of the lead up to a full single release by Undo Records. However, this did not materialise and it wasn’t until Autumn 2010 that it was issued in its own right as an independent EP. The original was good but MARSHEAUX’s remix was even better. The girls toughened ‘Mirrorball’ up to an EU friendly dancefloor splendour with additional air-synth riffage and interluding attacks that added some extra energy to proceedings.

Available on the CD EP ‘Mirrorball’ via Eden Records


MYLÈNE FARMER N’aie Plus D’amertume (2011)

Gallic songstress MYLÈNE FARMER is her country’s equivalent of MADONNA if slightly less controversial and diva-ish. Her sound does seem to benefit from disco enhancements, having already scored a No1 in her own country with the MOBY / MANHATTAN CLIQUE collaboration ‘Crier La Vie’. Almost translating as “do more bitterness”, this ballad is given a dreamy uptempo facelift by MARSHEAUX which is pop perfection.



Like a post mid-life update of 1984’s ‘Louise’ for the new millennium, Philip Oakey says ‘Sky’ is about “meeting dead girls in bars”. Suitably sombre and monotone synthpop for ‘The Vampire Diaries’ generation, ‘Sky’ is proof that Da League can still come up with great tunes. MARSHEAUX’s busy pulsing adds more fortified Italo elements without disrupting the original’s wonderful melancholy and livens the tempo.


HURTS Better Than Love (2010)

Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Adamson’s HI-NRG ditty underwent many manifestations having been originally part of their previous band DAGGERS’ live set. The fastest paced song in the HURTS catalogue, MARSHEAUX’s version hypnotised with its frenetic dancefloor friendliness and sequencing. Again retaining all the best euphoric elements of the song, this remix simply sparkles with optimism.


IN-VOX featuring ANDY BELL Will I Ever? (2004)

Ever wondered how ERASURE would have sounded doing ‘Go West’? Here it is in this highly uplifting collaboration with Greek duo IN-VOX. The original was fairly guitar driven but MARSHEAUX’s remix, which incidentally was their first, added a distinct electronic sheen to make it a pop masterpiece. Much better than the any of the cover versions which Andy and Vince were attempting at this point although things were put right with ERASURE’s best album in years ‘Nightbird’ released a year later.

Available on the CD single ‘Will I Ever?’ via Sony Music Greece and Columbia Records Austria.  Listen on YouTube http://youtu.be/YvkwXKlvZwk



KID MOXIE Medium Pleasure (2009)

KID MOXIE’s stunning lead singer Elena Charbila gives a cynical snarl as she waxes lyrical about how society accepts the culturally mundane and mediocre. With a tedious evening at Manchester MEN Arena led by Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Elbow for Children In Need warmly received by the masses, this just rings so true. Thankfully, MARSHEAUX’s interpretation of ‘Medium Pleasure’ is anything but mundane and mediocre, with rhythmical life enhancement through exposure to cool female fronted electro guaranteed.

Available on the Greek CD edition of ‘Selector’ via Undo Records. Listen on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRRrL0pWyrk


MESH Crash (2006)

Adding some light into the dark industrialists’s repertoire, this bleepy reworking emphasises MESH’s sometimes hidden knack for rousing and catchy electronic tunes. With some of the rockier tendencies stripped away, it becomes club friendly gothic pop that retains the all the dynamic tension and synth soloing of its parent recording. It’s almost like DEPECHE MODE go disco, complete with a lift from ‘It’s No Good’!

Available on the Greek CD edition of ‘We Collide’ via Undo Records.


MIRRORS Into The Heart (2011)

Christened the ‘Greek Girls Are Not Easy’ mix, Sophie and Marianthi turned MIRRORS’ most accessible track into a sensational neo-robotic danceathon. The as-yet-unreleased extended version, which was exclusively premiered on The Electricity Club, added even more sharp synth counterpoints to the majestic singalong with the whole package proving that classic Synth Britannia influences are nothing to be ashamed of.

Available on the Greek CD edition of ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Undo Records. Listen on YouTube https://youtu.be/77f812hkDBg


MOBY Lift Me Up (2005)

The original version was used as the theme for the UK’s Formula 1 coverage for a few years in the noughties and while it doesn’t have the instant resonance that FLEETWOOD MAC’s ‘The Chain’ has in its association with motorsport, it is certainly an energetically rousing anthem. At a less frantic pace, MARSHEAUX’s remix with its firm octave shift drive is a regular staple in their DJ sets and always well received by clubbers.


OMD She’s Leaving (2008)

OMD-Shes-Leaving-90024Technically, this is not a remix as it started life as a cover version of the ‘Architecture And Morality’ classic. However, a new vocal by Andy McCluskey was added and this delightfully rounded with the angelic melancholy of MARSHEAUX’s own sweet timbres. Given a modern discofied softsynth facelift, this pretty duet is a fine example of how yesterday’s tomorrow can successfully meet the present and the future. MARSHEAUX had a go at remixing OMD’s comeback single ‘If You Want It’, but even their dainty craft work couldn’t turn that particular donkey into a racehorse!

Unreleased at time of writing, listen on YouTube http://youtu.be/ly6JDo8o1I0


KATY PERRY Hot ‘N’ Cold (2009)

KATY PERRY kissed a girl and liked it, but behind all the shock tactics was some quality songs written by Cathy Dennis and in the case of ‘Hot ‘N’ Cold’, Swedish megapop producer Max Martin. Taking its cue from the PET SHOP BOYS remix of THE KILLERS’ ‘Read My Mind’, this superb reworking by MARSHEAUX can only be described as truly banging! When presented to KATY PERRY’s management, they were none too pleased but the lady herself loved it and sanctioned its release. It has since become the biggest selling single recording that MARSHEAUX have been involved in.

Available exclusively as an iTunes download single via EMI Records Greece


SAKIS ROUVAS Shake It (2004)

MARSHEAUX went to the Eurovision Song Contest with their electro assisted radio mix of this saucy uptempo number. SAKIS ROUVAS, who could be considered Greece’s own RICKY MARTIN, came third in proceedings and went to No1 in his home country. While ‘Shake It’ is not exactly a work of genius, it is good fun and did considerably better than the UK’s entry which came sixteenth. With the momentum from the success of ‘Shake It’, Greece actually won with ELENA PAPARIZOU in 2005, while Sakis himself represented Greece again in 2009.

Available on the CD Single ‘Shake It’ via EMI Records


SALLY SHAPIRO Jackie Jackie (2010)

SALLY SHAPIRO is the Queen of Scandinavian electropop and has won many admirers. With her wispy vocal and discotheque tendencies, she shares a musical affinity with MARSHEAUX. Interestingly though, the original of this was more of a pretty crystalline ballad. So MARSHEAUX added a 2010 percussive backbone to give it disco potential and thereby construct an uplifting anthem in time for the new decade.


TAREQ Mosquito (2011)

Greco Jordanian Tareq Souleiman was previously the lead singer of TECH SOIR and his vocal timbres make him electro’s answer to INXS’ Michael Hutchence as his cover of ‘Need You Tonight’ indeed shows. ‘Mosquito’ with its relaxed but pacey drum ‘n’ pop was the superb highlight from his first solo album ‘Cocoon’. Here though, MARSHEAUX take the pace down to a slower off-beat groove for an even greater chilled mood with Marianthi’s soft vocals, symphonic strings and KRAFTWERK’s Vako Orchestron choirs from ‘Radio-Activity’ added to the mix.


TIGER BABY Girlfriend (2006)

Dream laden electro from Copenhagen, TIGER BABY are another act who could be mistaken for MARSHEAUX with that synthpop vibe combined with sweetly gorgeous vocals from Pernille Pang. Stylistically, this has all the impressive hallmarks of the MARSHEAUX sound combined with the unmistakeable melodic sensibility that Scandinavian pop acts seem to naturally possess.

Available on the CD single ‘Girlfriend’ via Gunhero Records Denmark


With thanks to MARSHEAUX, all at Undo Records and EMI Greece

A selection of MARSHEAUX’s remixes can be heard at:



Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd December 2011, updated 29th October 2013

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